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Everyday Heroes: Local veterans save lives during storms

For two weeks during the storms that buried the metro area in snow, a few local American Legion veterans turned their post into a warming shelter.

American Legion Post 134 Commander Sean Davis told KATU the decision to open their doors to those in need of shelter came after a homeless man died of hypothermia on Jan. 3.

“We get sent thousands of miles away to help other communities,” Davis said of the post’s veterans, “why can’t we just help our own community?”

Davis, an Iraq War veteran, said dozens of homeless people took advantage of the shelter, many of them waking up in the morning to work their day job.

“These are regular people that are working at least part-time jobs, sometimes full-time jobs, and they’re homeless,” Davis said.

Davis said he and other post members watched over the people in the shelter 24/7, with many of the veterans standing guard for upwards of 18 hours at a time.

But their mission wasn’t limited to keeping the people in their shelter safe and warm.

“We were treating people like they were people,” Davis said.

“We had movies going 24/7,” post member Seth Grant said. “First-rate movies. Whatever I was pulling off HBO.”

Grant said the post also fed and clothed the homeless people there, and invited them to participate in the post’s weekly karaoke night.

But caring for some of the people wasn’t always easy.

“There were a lot of issues,” Davis said. “Mental health issues. Drug and alcohol issues. We had prostitution at one time.”

But, Davis added, the majority of the people under the veterans’ care made no trouble and were grateful.

Grant said even when they were faced with difficult situations, the veterans at the post stepped up to the challenge with aplomb.

“This was home,” Grant said. “This is what we’re supposed to be doing.”

A community comes together

Davis remembers preparing the post to become a shelter.

“I throw on the coffee, and I take the two crockpots we had here at the post, and I throw in some Progresso soup,” he said. “And I just waited.”

Davis said within hours the post was full, and friends and neighbors had shown up to lend their support.

“When it got out on social media, the two little Progresso soup crockpots I had multiplied, and people were bringing in their home-cooked meals, and we had whole families towing little sleds with [clothing] donations they brought from their closets,” David said.

“It was incredible,” Grant added. “More times than not, we couldn’t keep up with the number of cars that were driving up [to drop off donations].”

Both Davis and Grant estimate veterans handed out about three tons of clothes and bedding during the two weeks the post served as a warming shelter.

“The community outpouring restored my faith,” Grant said. “It really did. Some folks were here every other day with donations.”

Grant and Davis both said the post is ready to become a shelter again should the weather take another turn for the worse.

And they hope this helps people realize that Oregon has hundreds of combat veterans ready to pitch in, tough times or no.

“Our combat veterans are an untapped potential in our community,” Davis said. “To see them switch on and do this and organize all that stuff was an amazing thing.”

Grant added: “The desire to serve, why we went in – that desire isn’t extinguished when the uniform is shed.”

Nominate your own Everyday Hero here.

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