Desert Storm-era veteran Kevin Sacco was offered a coat, scarf and blanket the minute he walked inside the U.S. Army Reserve Center on a warm and muggy Friday morning in Myrtle Beach.
The boots were reserved for homeless veterans, but Sacco no longer falls into that category.
The 43-year-old who served in the Navy as an operations specialist was down on his luck and homeless just three months ago. But with help from some of the volunteers who flooded the center in The Market Common on Friday for the Stand Down event to benefit servicemen and women in need, Sacco is getting back on his feet again.
“My story is just one of many,” Sacco said, nodding to the crowd of veterans who gathered at the event who are homeless, on the verge of homelessness, or in need of the multitude of services offered at the event by 35 community and volunteer organizations.
More than 150 veterans were expected to file through the center, where tables were lined with food and clothing, and private rooms were set aside for medical screening, including AIDS testing and assistance for Alzheimer’s patients. Lawyers were also on hand to answer legal questions.
Although the center is located across the street from a VA clinic, homeless veterans don’t always seek out their medical services, said Kris Tourtellotte, director of the Veterans Welcome Home and Resource Center.
“Many people are hurting and really need help,” Tourtellotte said. “The community has been unbelievable, and each year they keeping stepping up. Last year we had more volunteers than veterans.”
Doris Gleason, an event organizer with AARP, said veterans were lined up at the door before 8 a.m., and more than 60 veterans passed through the center within an hour.
A volunteer escorted each veteran through the gauntlet of tables and rooms to make sure they stopped at certain stations to address their specific needs.
“All of mine needed a lot of help today,” said Doreen Mishoe of Conway, a volunteer with the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, who was also Sacco’s escort.
“It’s worth it, I’ll stand here all day long with them,” said Mishoe, whose husband and son are both veterans.
“It makes me feel good to help them through the crowd. Most have PTSD, and it’s hard for them to move through a crowd of people,” Mishoe said.
“It feels wonderful not to be alone, even if it’s just for today,” Sacco said.
Sacco was offered numerous items of clothing and food, and said yes to some socks and a nutrition drink.
He paused to take a closer look at men’s professional clothing arranged at one display. He considered a button-down oxford shirt that was fitting for a job interview, but left it behind for another veteran.
He took advantage of the vision testing and legal counseling for a tax question. But what he needs, he later admitted, is a job.
Sacco moved to Horry County two years ago, settling first in temporary housing in Conway. He did not have a car, so he found a minimum-wage labor job within walking distance.
He was thrilled when the federal agency that assists with veterans housing found a permanent residence for him and arranged for movers to relocate him to Myrtle Beach. But his relief was short-lived. The housing and movers fell through, his temporary housing was no longer available, and he had quit his job in anticipation of finding a new one closer to his new home.
And he was homeless.
Sacco turned to the VA’s Project ECHO who helped him find a new home three months ago, but he needs a job, preferably in the security field, to keep that home.
As Sacco completed his tour of the facility, a retired veteran stopped him at the exit to pin a veteran’s organization medal on his lapel and saluted the young man. Sacco instinctively responded with a sharp salute.
“Everyone is so respectful, kind and generous. This means so much, to feel welcome,” Sacco said.