Youth group hosts homeless vets event

3rd annual Stand Down at local church

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  • Members and volunteers of Pass It Along with veterans and outreach providers at Satiurday's Stand Down in Sparta Photos by Amy Shewchuk

  • From left, standing: ‘A Cut Above’ Barbershop owner Gelin Suarez, barbers Zack Kronenfeld, Manny Galicia, Eric Horn and Chris Bassani. Seated is ‘Army Strong’ Veteran Mac Davis

  • Veterans select clothes, shoes and toiletries


— Pass It Along, the nonprofit focused on teaching teens responsibility, hosted its 3rd annual Stand Down for Homeless Veterans this past Saturday at the Sparta Evangelical Church.

The Stand Down provides homeless veterans with supplies and services, such as meeting with representatives from organizations that provide transitional housing for veterans, vocational rehabilitation, counseling and legal and medical services.

Over 80 homeless veterans were bussed to the Church from Warren, Sussex and Hunterdon counties.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that 39,471 veterans are homeless on any given night. According to New Jersey’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, there are approximately 2,000 military veterans among the Garden State’s homeless population. Sandra Mitchell, director of Project Help, a northern New Jersey organization that brings assistance to veterans in need, put the figure closer to 5,000, noting that many veterans go uncounted because they have addresses in the system but no actual place to stay.

The PIA event was in partnership with Hope for Veterans, an organization that helps veterans and their families overcome mental illness, addiction, homelessness and poverty by providing housing and support services and also transports the veterans to and from various Stand Downs in New Jersey.

“The name Stand Down comes from a military term which means ‘a temporary cessation of offensive actions. It’s where all normal activities stop and is usually used for training and maneuvers,” said Bob Looby of the American Legion.

“Stand Downs provide a vital service for our veterans who are homeless or on the brink of homelessness," Project Help's Mitchell said. "It gives them an up-close and personal connection to services as well as people.”

The veterans were given breakfast, haircuts, clean clothes, toiletries, and blood glucose/HIV/medical testing. Each veteran was paired with a Pass It Along teen for the day as they visited different stations.

Owner of ‘A Cut Above’ Barber Shop Gelin Suarez along with four of his barbers donated their time giving free haircuts.

“It’s always a pleasure to help out our veterans who risked their lives for our safety,” Suarez said.

“Service projects are the best way for outreach but we need more manpower and volunteers in general,” said Bob Cubby, Vietnam Veteran Chapter 1002. “We can always use more help, such as maintaining the Northern NJ Veteran’s Memorial Cemetary on North Church Road in Sparta.”

“The Stand Down is always an incredible day for us here at Pass It Along,” said Kathy Rathbone, director of programs. “These veterans have incredible stories, and through this event, we not only get to hear them but we get to provide essential services these local heroes need.”

Pass It Along is a nonprofit organization serving the northern New Jersey counties of Sussex, Morris, Essex and Warren. Since its inception in 2001, Pass It Along has been committed to helping teenagers become confident, resilient and compassionate through self-discovery, volunteerism, and leadership. By participating in the Pass It Along program, teenagers gain strong sense of self, learn about the positive effects of helping others and are equipped to making better decisions.

For more information about the Stand Down, including how you can help, please visit or contact Rathbone at

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