LONG BEACH — A chilly and overcast Tuesday afternoon didn’t deter more than 130 people and a host of local and regional vendors from attending the eighth annual Project Community Connect last week at the Long Beach Elementary School.
The event, put on by Peninsula Poverty Response, was delayed until July 13 from its usual January date because of concerns over covid-19. It connected homeless and low-income residents with a host of organizations, clubs, businesses, churches and government agencies offering goods and services, including free meals, clothing, application assistance, medical exams and haircuts.
Of the 130 people who attended the outdoor event, 48 of them were considered homeless, including 42 adults and six children. The other 82 — 52 adults and 30 kids — were housed, according to a tally from the Pacific County Health and Human Services Department.
Vendors from throughout the region attended Project Community Connect, including the county health department, Ocean Beach Hospital, Timberland Libraries, Coastal Community Action Program, Pacific County Immigrant Support and Worksource WA, among many others. For the groups in attendance, the event marked a return to being able to provide outreach at a traditional, in-person gathering.
At the Ilwaco Timberland Library’s table, branch manager Amy Hitchcock offered to sign attendees up for library cards, brought a selection of books that people could borrow and return later to the library, gave away take-and-make seed kits and informed people about the branch’s Summer Library Program.
“We brought a little bit of the library, but not everything,” said Hitchcock, who has been the Ilwaco branch’s manager since the spring and was attending her first Project Community Connect.
Volunteers with Pacific County Immigrant Support were in attendance, helping people fill out applications for rental assistance. “Oh my God, [the pandemic] has changed a lot” about how the group operates and what services it provides, said PCIS President Ann Reeves.
Reeves mentioned the group’s covid-19 relief fund as one of the ways PCIS has responded to the pandemic. The fund, which began with a $75,000 state grant from the All In Washington campaign and included another $29,216 raised by PCIS with help from local groups and donors, provided emergency flexible financial assistance to Pacific County residents who were not eligible for federal stimulus payments or unemployment insurance benefits because of their immigration status.
“We did our summary report [of the relief fund], and we had a page of comments that [applicants] made, and it was just so bad. People having relatives die, people losing their work, it changed everything we do,” Reeves said.
Focus on health
A number of health organizations and agencies were on-hand at the event, including staff with the county health department. As well as offering educational services, nurses also administered Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose covid-19 vaccine to eight people attending Project Community Connect. While it wasn’t as many as county health director Katie Lindstrom had hoped, “it’s eight more people who are vaccinated now than prior to the event.”
The department also gave away covid-19 home test kits, and plans to begin to offer them to the public. More information on the home test kits will be included in next week’s Observer.
Staff from Ocean Beach Hospital were raising awareness for their free in-person community education programs that are starting up again after being sidelined by the pandemic, including several classes on diabetes education and prevention, and living well with chronic conditions.
CHOICE Regional Health Network, which focuses on improving community health in Pacific and other western Washington counties, had staff on hand who helped sign people up for health insurance. With so many people losing their jobs during the pandemic — and employer-provided health insurance by extension, for many — the group has been busy over the past 18 months or so, according to Lawrence Kinnaman, the nonprofit’s community outreach coordinator.
“Things are starting to open, so I think things are slowing down. People are going back to work, [so they’re getting covered by their employers again],” Kinnaman said.
The Astoria-based Coast Pregnancy Clinic also had a table at the event, offering free diapers and blankets as well as raising awareness about the free services their clinic provides, including pregnancy tests, ultrasound exams, classes and counseling. Jan Johnson, with the clinic, said the pandemic didn’t have too much of a negative effect on the nonprofit’s operations.
“We actually thought we’d see a lot more pregnancies [during the pandemic],” Johnson said.