The 14 men who walked single-file from the bus that took them from a shelter house near downtown Columbus and into Hilliard Memorial VFW Post 4931, 2436 Walcutt Road in Columbus, on Aug. 20 each had a different story to tell.

But they had a common bond: Every man is a U.S. veteran struggling to make ends meet.

The goodwill of three local hairstylists brought them to the VFW, where the veterans received free haircuts, socks, T-shirts, footwear and toothpaste and toothbrushes.

After sprucing up, the camaraderie flowed easily while they enjoyed a picnic-style buffet lunch prepared by women in the VFW Auxiliary.

"It's a nice group of people here," said David Miller, 64, a U.S. Navy veteran who enlisted upon his graduation from Columbus' Linden-McKinley High School in 1971 and served until 1979.

Miller picked out new socks and T-shirts before receiving a haircut and enjoying a hot dog and Orange Crush.

The trio of ladies who donated the talent of their scissors, clippers and combs were Melody Bluemel, who owns Saltopia at Melody's in Columbus, Karla Peitsmeyer, who works at Salon C and Day Spa in Grove City, and Lisa Whisner-Barnes, who owns Hair Time Salon in Hilliard.

Bluemel, whose son is a U.S. Air Force veteran, organized the outreach for veterans eight years ago.

"I wanted to (provide free haircuts) for homeless veterans," Bluemel sad.

While looking for a place to conduct the free haircuts, a past VFW post commander offered to allow her and other stylists to use the VFW, she said.

The ladies provide the service a few times a year, as their schedules allow, she said.

Paul Ritzenthaler, quartermaster of Hilliard Memorial VFW Post 4931 and a retired fire inspector for the Norwich Township Fire Department, said he calls different places to offer the outreach.

Most recently, Ritzenthaler reached out to the Volunteers of America Men's Services & Veterans Resource Center on Harmon Avenue in Columbus and told operators the VFW would provide transportation for any veteran who wanted a free haircut.

The stylists also solicited donations from their clients in the weeks preceding the VFW visit; the women often are enlisted to help select wardrobes, too.

Relationships forged at the event run deep.

Bluemel's son invited one of her past clients to their house a few days before Thanksgiving to enjoy a home-cooked meal.

Barnes' son is a sergeant in the U.S. Army who has served 18 years.

Her clients Aug. 20 included 36-year-old Sam Presson, a 2003 Westerville South High School graduate who served in the U.S. Navy from 2003 to 2007.

Presson said he expects to sign a lease for a new apartment sometime this week.

"I was living in my storage unit (until I went to the VOA shelter)," said Presson, who lost his apartment earlier this year.

Presson opted to keep his long locks but Barnes trimmed his hair and shaped his facial hair.

"You look good; when you sign that lease they will think you have your (stuff) together," Barnes said to Presson.

Like Presson, other men are securing housing with the assistance of the VOA.

They include Kenny Brown, who is "61 and counting, thank you, Jesus."

Brown, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, moved out of a north Columbus apartment last month after a financial dispute with a roommate.

"He got stupid, so I had to go," Brown said.

He hopes the VOA can help him find a new apartment in west Columbus, he said.

"I love doing this and meeting all the wonderful veterans who come here and hearing their stories," Peitsmeyer said.

The stylists will gather again Nov. 5 at the VFW near Hilliard to help more veterans.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo