AVON PARK — Avon Park’s American Legion Post 69 is holding its fifth “Assisting Our Veterans Exposition” on Saturday, March 13, beginning at 11 a.m. at the Post.

The main purpose of the event is to raise funds and awareness for the 22 veterans who commit suicide each day. Post Service Officer Larry Roberts said he was told that number has climbed 30% since the pandemic hit.

Roberts said he would like to see people leave the event with the knowledge of the warning signs to look for, whether they be veterans themselves or friends and family members.

He did say it can be difficult for a veteran to take the first step and admit they need help.

“I was talking to one guy and he said ‘I’m a Marine, I don’t need help’ “ Roberts said. “We’re not so tough that we don’t need help. We all need help at some point, whether we want to admit it or not.”

The Expo will feature a car show, with a $10 entry fee for Project VetRelief. Contact Mike (863-414-5931) or Mary (812-593-3453) for more information on the car show.

There will be a celebration of K9 Veterans, with the Highlands County K9 Unit on hand, as well as several organizations who have service dogs for veterans — K-9 Line, Inc., K-9 Partners for Patriots and new this year, Wolfhounds Legacy.

Jen Licata, manager of the K-9 Partners for Patriots, spoke at last year’s event. “We do service dogs for active duty and veterans with service related PTSD, TBI and MST. We actually rescue all of our dogs that are in the program. So they come from surrounding shelters, adoption agencies, rescues from across the state of Florida.”

There will be a Veterans Benefit Fair, where veterans and their families can learn about the different programs and benefits available, from a number of organizations and vendors. There will also be a Silent Auction, raffle 50/50 and plenty more.

There will also be a 1-Mile Walk to raise awareness of the 22 veterans who take their own lives each day.

While other organizations are holding similar events, such as Project 65’s event at Lakeshore Mall on Feb. 27, Roberts said it isn’t a competition among different organizations, but that anything done to help the lives of veterans is a good thing.

“If we need to have 40 or 50 events to help veterans, we’ll have 40 or 50 events,” he said.

Veterans Outreach Program Specialist Sherri Alip for the VetCenter in Lakeland was asked about her feelings for events such as Assisting Our Veterans Exposition at last year’s event and said, “It’s a very good networking program, I think that you know with all the different programs there are, its important for us all to work together to benefit veterans and our goal is to prevent suicide and to help veterans better their lives.”

American Legion Post 69 is located at 1301 W. Bell St. in Avon Park.