Holly Marshall hadn’t seen a dentist since she was 8 years old.
|Volunteer Kristyl Fleurkens (middle) helps Faith Rowe (right) of Perrysburg to pick out some clothes October 16, 2013 during Project Homeless Connect, a joint effort hosted at Saint Marks Lutheran Church in Bowling Green, Ohio. (Photos: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Now 37, the Cygnet mother of three got a chance to remedy that void during the first hour of Project Homeless Connect (PHC) on Wednesday in Bowling Green.
“I had one tooth pulled” by a dentist from the Dental Center of Northwest Ohio working out of a portable unit stationed in the parking lot of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.
It was just one of dozens of different services made available, for free, to county residents who are currently homeless, or at risk of being homeless.
Among others offered at the one-day, one-stop event: medical and vision care, interview clothing, employment and legal services, debt counseling, veterans assistance, winter coats and boots.
Eating a free hot lunch at one of many crowded tables in the gymnasium, with a pianist performing in the background, Marshall ticked off the other things she’d already received. “I got a haircut, I got a massage. They were serving us breakfast when I first got here and they told me I should stay for lunch.”
She was ready to check out the room full of donated clothing to find items for her kids, ages 14, 12 and 6.
The 265 volunteers involved in making the day happen all seemed to reach for the same word to describe the first-time event: Awesome.
“There are so many people with critical issues,” discovered Michelle Clossick, one of many assigned to escort visitors as they made their way around the service sites scattered throughout the building and spilling into the parking lot.
“One little boy I was working with has an eye condition that — if it’s surgically corrected by age 5, he’ll be fine. If not, he’ll lose his sight,” Clossick said. “He’s just one surgery away from disaster.”
Haircuts and dental services seemed to be especially popular, confirmed Jo Tutolo, a PHC planning committee member and Habitat for Humanity board member. She pointed to the room with three or four volunteer stylists cutting away in brisk assembly-line fashion.
All told, more than 250 people came through the doors during the six-hour event that was more than a year in the planning.
“It’s a fantastic operation. It makes you proud of your community,” Emmy Hann offered.
Many who came had seen flyers around the town and county advertising the event.
“I just had double hernia surgery Monday,” said Deanna Jensen, 36, sitting in a wheelchair as she and her mother quietly fed raisins to Jensen’s 3-year-old twin daughters, Layvonna and Kayvonna.
“I just live at Green Meadows. I didn’t know about this until I asked for utility assistance” and was told to come take advantage of PHC.
|Jeanettie Zamarripa (right) of Dying To Be Pretty Salon, gives a haricut to a guest as volunteers clean up in the background during Project Homeless Connect.
Jensen has lived in Bowling Green four years and was formerly homeless. Her twins’ father is currently “missing in action.”
“I’m already on Section 8 but it’s tough when you have zero income. Help with housing is the biggest thing, and maybe clothing for the girls,” she said, nodding to the preschoolers both crowded up against the side of her wheelchair, sporting matching sparkly blue hair bows and ponytails. “These two precious girls are the best thing I’ve got.”
Selena Madden, 19, and her husband, Seth, had one-month-old baby Arianna between them as they waited to be helped. Madden saw a PHC flyer at Behavioral Connections so they came to the church with hopes for “dental and a job.”
The couple, who are “living in a Bowling Green apartment at the moment,” were chatting with friend Virginia Maretta, 34, who described herself as new to the area.
“I’m looking for a job, and housing, because I’m currently staying with friends — with my two kids, 13 and 12.”
She’s been surprised at being unable to find a job here after nearly a year of fruitless searching. “I’m looking for something in the health care field,” said Maretta, a former dental hygienist. On Wednesday she herself was glad to be offered a chance to see a dentist.
She too was hoping to find clothes for her children, “especially with winter coming. Kids grow so fast.”
Sandy Rowland, a designated host, was feeling emotional by lunchtime as she recounted stories of some of the people she’d already met.
“I had a woman who came in first thing this morning and she got five ‘rotten’ teeth pulled — her word — and got her eyes examined and learned she needs glasses badly.”
The woman, a single mom of four children, had been homeless and is now working after she managed to get hired at Pioneer Packing.
“She’s very motivated to get out of the problems life has given her,” Rowland said. “She was the first person in line this morning.”
Volunteer Dan Tutolo was also moved by one of the people he’d met.
“A woman came to the exit table where we give bags of groceries as they’re heading out the door. She was asked ‘would you like a bag of groceries?’ She said ‘No, thank you, I don’t need groceries. What I need is this coat’” as she looked down and hugged the garment close to her chest.
Another woman turned down the proffered groceries, saying “No thank you, there are people who need it worse than me.”