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story.lead_photo.caption California Elementary School's California Kids choir performed Monday at the Heroes Outreach Program's Veterans Day breakfast. The group sang "The Star Spangled Banner" and Bruno Mars' "Count On Me." Photo by Austin Hornbostel / California Democrat.

The Heroes Outreach Program, a nonprofit geared toward stemming military veteran suicides in communities in the Mid-Missouri area, introduced itself to a packed crowd in California on Monday at its Veterans Day breakfast.

The well-attended event was the program's first formal affair in the county, after originally getting its start in nearby Jefferson City and Eldon. Starting Nov. 18, the Heroes Outreach Program will host weekly Coffee Talks for local veterans from 9-10 a.m. at The Gathering Place, where they'll have the opportunity to interact with peers who have had the same experiences over a free breakfast of coffee and doughnuts.

The Gathering Place owner Chelsea McGill has chipped in to donate not only the event space but the food, and played a part in organizing the larger-scale Veterans Day event at the California Nutrition Center. California Elementary School's California Kids choir sang "The Star Spangled Banner" and Bruno Mars' "Count On Me" at the event.

Heroes Outreach Program President John Morlock also took the time to show a short presentation informing the veterans in attendance about the program. Morlock said while the free coffee and breakfast is always something the program loves to offer, the purpose is much deeper.

"The purpose of these gatheringsis not just to give free coffee to veterans, but as an outreach into the community so that we can start addressing the epidemic of 22 veterans each day committing suicide," Morlock said.

Morlock, a retired combat medic with tours in Honduras, Somalia and in the Gulf War, founded the Heroes Outreach Program in 2016 after a lengthy battle with PTSD, including a survived suicide attempt nearly two decades ago. The program's aim is to stem the tide of veteran suicide by fostering a supportive environment of other veterans who can keep an eye on one another and make sure each one has someone to turn to in the midst of their own struggles.

Morlock said in the same vein as Alcholics Anonymous having a heavy presence nationwide, the goal is for the Heroes Outreach Program to reach such a level of service as well.

If you or a veteran you know are struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, call the National Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.

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