LONG BEACH — Sometimes a helping hand can change a life.

The seventh annual Project Community Connect will be held Thursday, Jan. 24, from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The event is at the BPOE 1937 Elks Lodge, 110 N. Pacific Highway in Long Beach.

Pacific Transit will offer free rides to the event via Route 20, which covers the Long Beach Peninsula.

The event

The event was previously called Project Homeless Connect. Event coordinators decided to change the event’s name to better represent who is served by the event.

“Before, people didn’t know they could go to the event,” said event coordinator Bill Buck. “The event isn’t just for the homeless, it’s for anyone who needs it.”

People who attend the event can get connected with a variety of services such as medical, dental and eye exams; haircuts; identification replacement; and education, employment, housing, family, and legal services. Attendees also will be able to get personal care items, clothing and a free warm meal provided by His Supper Table.

About 40 service providers will be at the event. In 2018, 155 event attendees benefitted through a total of 1,008 services and referrals.

“It’s making a difference one person at a time,” Buck said. “People don’t realize these are our neighbors.”

While at the event, attendees are paired with a volunteer who spends the day with them. Oftentimes, the volunteer and attendee make a lasting connection with each other, Buck said.

“Attendees get a personalized experience where they are guided and loved,” Buck said.

Many event attendees come back to the event to pay it forward as a volunteer and help other community members, Buck said.

Peninsula homelessness

About 270 students in the Ocean Beach School District are considered homeless, according to the Pacific County Economic Development Council. Between 110 and 130 families on the Peninsula are homeless.

More than 62 percent of OBSD students qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Many families who don’t qualify for free or reduced lunch can’t afford to pay for lunches, which leads to unaccounted lunch balances, Buck said.

“People don’t really realize when there are problems on the Peninsula, it all points back to poverty,” Buck said.

Pacific County’s median income is about $37,000, according to the EDC. On the Peninsula, the median income is about $26,800.

“We’re the poorest part of the county,” Buck said. “Our poor are our neighbors.”

How to help

People who are interested in volunteering at Project Community Connect should contact coordinator Mitzi Potheir at gregnmitzipoth50@gmail.com or 360-574-3769.

A local resource guide for Clatsop and Pacific county residents is available at tinyurl.com/Giving-Back-CO. Print copies are also available at the Chinook Observer, 205 Bolstad Avenue.

Alyssa Evans is a staff writer for the Chinook Observer. Contact her at 360-642-8181 or aevans@chinookobserver.com

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