A 42-year-old woman named Rachael, who lived at Hope Harbor a year ago, is one of the people who’s grateful for Project Connect.
At Thursday’s event, she got a flu shot, a tetanus shot and made an appointment to see about getting health insurance, which she hasn’t had in five years. She also made an appointment to have Career Pathways Institute students give her van a tuneup.
“It’s really nice that they have all the services in one place,” she said.
It was the second year in a row Rachael attended Project Connect. A year ago, she got a flu shot and information on housing. She now has stable living arrangements.
But she knows what it’s like to struggle each day. For Rachael, the best thing about Project Connect is finding “there’s people that really care,” she said as she began to tear up.
“I’m glad they do this. I know a lot of people need it,” she said.
Rachael was one of about 400 people who took advantage of Project Connect, held for the fifth year in a row at GI Free Church. The one-stop event ran from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Organizers include Hope Harbor, the Salvation Army, the Multicultural Coalition, Veterans Affairs and Central Nebraska Community Action Partners. More than 50 service providers were represented.
Project Connect helps the homeless and near-homeless.
Organizers put the event together “because there’s a need. There are people out there that are trying to make it day-to-day, people that have no place to lay their head at night, a warm place to stay,” said Renae Swanson of Hope Harbor.
Attendees need medical attention, such as breast cancer exams. Many appreciate the haircuts provided free-of-charge. For many people, “simple things like getting an oil change can put them over on their budget at home,” Swanson said.
Food and hygiene products are also provided. Those who attend Project Connect can take home toilet paper and other items — “everyday things that you don’t even think about,” Swanson said.
A free lunch was provided.
This year’s Project Connect had a special treat. Two hundred breakfast burritos from Sonic were handed out free-of-charge to people as they entered. Organizers got a great deal on those burritos from the restaurant.
Free coffee was also available at the church.
In addition to organizers, 144 people volunteered their time.
“They’re from all over. We’ve had doctors. We’ve had lawyers — all over. It’s everybody,” Swanson said.
If people don’t get their needs met at Project Connect, organizers are going to reach out to the proper agency to point people “in the right direction,” Swanson said.
Project Connect is growing. “The word’s getting out that this day is happening and that it’s a wonderful day,” Swanson said.
“It’s sad that the attendance is growing. But at the same time, we’re able to help people.”
How organized is Project Connect? Buses are provided from Centennial Towers, the Salvation Army and the Ramada Inn.
Project Connect also takes place in other cities, including Hastings, Kearney, Lincoln and Omaha.
Events in two other Grand Island locations take place in conjunction with Project Connect.
Stolley Park Church of Christ gives away free clothing every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. But the church is busier than usual on Project Connect Thursday.
“We’ve been blessed to help about 200 people this morning,” Linda Sukraw said before noon.
The church receives donations of clothing “almost every day,” said Gloria Smith, who greeted the public at the door.
The donations come from all over town and out of town. People are nice to provide clothing to those who can use it without charge, Sukraw said.
A dozen volunteers were helping out Thursday at the church.
“They pay pretty well,” joked Carl Hance.
What exactly is the compensation? “Treasures in heaven,” he said.
It was the 16th year in a row that St. Leo’s Catholic Church gave away coats.
St. Leo’s sees three rushes on Project Connect day. The first is when the doors open at 10 a.m. Numbers also increase when shifts change at JBS and when school gets out.
Eighteen volunteers were helping.
Donna Douglass, the church’s outreach coordinator, said the community deserves “a big thank-you” for donating almost 2,000 coats every year.
Some people donate cash. On Wednesday, she took $1,250 and bought 59 coats.
The collection points help make the event successful, Douglass said. People can donate coats at the two Super Savers, Hy-Vee, all three U-Save Pharmacy locations, YMCA and YWCA and Raising Cane’s.
In addition to coats, families also picked up blankets, boots, hats, gloves and other items.