Thousands of needy Nassau military veterans, whose lives were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, will be able to obtain free summer necessities on Friday as part of the county's 34th biannual Veterans Stand Down.
The event, to be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Freeport Armory, will be modified for the second consecutive time — November's winter stand down was also tweaked — into a drive or walk-through experience due to COVID-19 concerns.
"It can't be as personal as we want it to be but we can't let it stop us from getting the information and the goods to the folks who need it," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said during a news conference Thursday in Freeport.
Nassau has an estimated population of 56,000 veterans — among the largest in the region — and many are older and were particularly vulnerable to the virus, lawmakers said Thursday.
Leg. Debra Mulé (D-Freeport) said the event is critically important to support "the ones who made the sacrifices to protect and defend our country."
Veterans arriving by car will be required to stay in their vehicles. Volunteers, often veterans themselves, will distribute bags that include new sneakers, socks, toiletries, underwear, T-shirts, hats, gift cards and nonperishable food. Information on housing, rental, job and mental health assistance will also be distributed.
Those arriving by foot will be asked to wait in line outside.
"Last year was significantly limited because of the COVID-19 pandemic but I am looking forward to a resilient and robust recovery, especially for our veterans," said Freeport Mayor Robert T. Kennedy, who served in the Navy.
Ralph Esposito, executive director of the Nassau Veterans Services Agency, which organizes the event, said the popularity of the event shows how much local veterans need the added support.
"There are so many people that come here in need," he said. "You walk out of here heartbroken. It hits my heart to see so many people in need."