The annual Veterans Stand-Down is about more than ensuring that veterans have access to the services they need.

It also is about helping homeless veterans and bringing them back into the community fold, Melissa Watkins, a Gold Star Spouse, and who is retired from the Air Force.

The crowd ebbed and flowed as 73 veterans participated in Thursday's stand-down that started at 9 a.m. It was wrapping up by 12:30 p.m. even though it was scheduled to last until 2 p.m.

People tend to leave once they have been fed, Watkins joked.

The stand-down is sponsored by the Wayne County Veterans and Patriots Coalition in cooperation with NCWorks in Wayne and Lenoir counties.

Also, veterans who may live in Johnston County, or other adjacent counties are invited.

"We don't turn anybody away," said Watkins, a coalition member.

The vendors are organizations specifically willing to help veterans, specifically veterans in need, she said.

Representatives from the Veterans Affairs, Four Day Movement, Salvation Army, Red Cross and other agencies were on hand to talk with and provide services to veterans

An Army surplus store brought in shoes and clothing to give away.

"We had the VA to come from Fayetteville to do flu shots for homeless veterans, veterans in need," Watkins said. "We provide IDs from the DMV. We do haircuts. We did all kinds of stuff."

The Bridge Church comes and sets up and feeds them hot dogs and chips, she said.

The event also helps veterans if they need military paperwork to show they served, Watkins said.

Veterans Affairs can also help identify veterans if they need anything for the VA clinic or any of their benefits because there are people who will go their whole life and never be aware of their benefits, Watkins said.

It is the fifth year the stand-down has been held, but only the second year the coalition has been involved, Watkins said.

It was actually started with NCWorks," Watkins said.

"My old boss did it a long time ago, but she could not get any support," said Zachary Branch of NCWorks.

"When I came down here they started talking about we need to do this and that and that."

Branch, who is also a coalition member, told NCWorks official that the agency needed to partner with a nonprofit group.

"So we work it as a team," he said.

The event format is set and organizers go to the same vendors each year, but even then the participation is increasing, he said.

Having a nonprofit involved encourages groups to sign on and is a tax write-off, too, he said.

"We welcome anyone who has a resource for future stand-downs that would like to contribute," Watkins said. "We are always looking for financial contributions. We do pay for things out of pocket."

Veterans who were unable to attend the stand-down, or who still need help, should contact Wayne County Veterans Services, 2001-D E. Ash St., she said.

The office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Walk-ins are accepted from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesdays.

The office number is 919-731-1490.