VETERANS FROM SAN Joaquin and surrounding counties visited Stockton on Tuesday to attend the ‘Stand Down’ event at the Memorial Civic Auditorium.

The event, which also included a job fair, helped connect more than 300 veterans and their families with resources and services such as housing, employment, legal services, health checkups, mental health information, disability services and more.

Assemblymember Carlos Villapudua (D-Stockton) held the event in collaboration with Dignity’s Alcove and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Luneta Post 52.

According to Villapudua’s office, the original stand-downs were held during the Vietnam War. The stand down provided the soldiers returning from the battle with a secure place to take a shower, collect clean uniforms and receive medical care.

Lance Orona, an army veteran, gathers information on resources available during Veterans Stand Down in Stockton. “I had been waiting for a stand down to come down to Stockton. I got all kinds of information today,” Orona said. (Photo by Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Villapudua shared that the idea behind the event started about two years ago, as his office had always wanted to get involved with veterans and service members.

“I’m not a veteran. I wish I served in the military, but I didn’t,” Villapudua said. “But this is my way of trying to be involved to give back.”

Taking the lead

In May of 2022, Villapudua’s office hired a veteran, Xochitl Raya Paderes, as the district director, who now works to connect veterans with the resources that they need. According to Paderes, veterans have taken the lead on hosting a stand-down event for over the past 20 years. As those veterans aged, they could not take the lead any longer.

“For the last two years, we [veterans] have been asking for a stand down, and Carlos Villapudua didn’t have anybody who knew how to put the event back together,” Paderes said. “So, he offered me the job and I took it.”

Michael Rude, a Navy veteran from Lodi, talks to Correctional Sgt. Roy Alvarez during the Veterans Stand Down at Memorial Civic Auditorium in Stockton. (Photo by Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)

Many veterans who attended the stand down expressed happiness over the return of the event.

“I have been waiting for the stand down return for years now,” said Darlene Harris, who served in the Navy and the Army. “The resources are extremely helpful.”

While the event was schedule from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., some stalls had started to wrap up before 1 p.m. A few veterans like Richard Martinez reached the event venue at around 1 p.m. and missed out on accessing some of the information.

“There are some excellent resources here. They have things that could benefit me completely,” said Martinez. “I wish I was able to get here sooner.”

Harika Maddala is a photojournalist based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. They are a Report for America corps member and a CatchLight Local Fellow.