By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
They started lining up in the darkness at 6:45 a.m. – waiting for Project Connect to open Wednesday at 9 a.m.
“Before the doors opened we had a line around the building,” said Erin Hachtel, co-chair of the fifth annual Project Connect coordinated by local social services and held at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Bowling Green.
The one-day event is a one-stop shop for goods and services for people in the Bowling Green area.
“It’s to bring together people who have needs with people who can provide for those needs,” Hachtel said.
The needs were varied. People came for a warm meal and bags of food to take home, for dental exams and vision checkups, for flu shots and birth certificates, and for winter coats for entire families. They went home with all that and more at no cost to them.
As always, those seeking help were not called patients, consumers or clients. They were called “guests.”
“Project Connect is a hospitality event where everyone is welcome,” Hachtel said. Help is offered with no strings attached. “We don’t ask at the door for them to prove they are in need.”
Each guest was assigned to a volunteer, who helped them navigate through the sea of services offered.
Barbara Ramsay, of Bowling Green, had come to the program before – but this year she was using a wheelchair. Her goal was to get food, a winter coat for her “grandbaby,” some leads on rental housing that is handicapped accessible, and a copy of her birth certificate. The Wood County Health District printed off the certificates for 110 people, with a donor paying the costs.
“I think it’s awesome,” Ramsay said, holding her certificate.
Further down the hall, Danielle Lashaway, of Rudolph, was getting her hair cut for the first time in more than a year. “I always wear my hair up. It’s time for a change,” she said, smiling.
Lashaway also had plans to pick up some food and winter clothing for her seven children. She was hoping to find winter coats for all of them, aged 10 to 4.
“It really helps tremendously,” she said of Project Connect. “Stuff is expensive.”
Alva Barnes, 71, of Weston, said he came to Project Connect because his daughter brought him. But while there, he planned to get help with his checkbook, and get his eyesight checked since it had been several years since his last eye exam.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Barnes said of the event as he waited his turn for the vision testing.
A couple doors down, another guest was having her teeth checked by Dr. Scott Louderback. In the makeshift exam room, the dentist was primarily screening for oral cancer and trying to direct people to a dental center.
“The biggest thing is having a dental home. Without that, things fall through the cracks,” Louderback said.
Though some guests came to address immediate needs, the program also addressed needs that can have lasting effects. They were linked up with agencies like Salvation Army, Job and Family Services, the Health District, the Cocoon, the Child Support Enforcement Agency, and senior services.
“We try to provide for long term needs so families can deal with whatever they need to deal with,” Hachtel said.
Last year, Project Connect was visited by 592 guests, representing 297 households, said Shannon Fisher, the other co-chair of the event. Less than two hours into this year’s event, the program had already seen people from 240 households.
“It’s the fifth annual. People are aware of us,” Fisher said. This year, however, more younger individuals were seeking services, she added.
A couple of those younger people were Tiffany Roberts and Matthew Drummond, both of Bowling Green.
“I need to get help with food and a winter coat for my son,” Roberts said.
“And he’s a cutie,” Drummond added about the 9-year-old.
Roberts was also hoping to pick up about a week’s worth of groceries.
“I’m here to help her carry stuff,” Drummond said.
Both said the Project Connect provides a true service to the community.
“I think it actually does help a lot of people,” Roberts said.
“If they can’t get to the store and they can’t get medical care, they can get it here,” Drummond added.