Hundreds of homeless in the East Valley converged near The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Mesa Temple on Tuesday for “Project Connect” — a monthly event hosted by Valley of the Sun United Way.
The event, which was at the church's Interstake Center, is hosted each time at a different Valley location to provide homeless people in the area with basic services.
Those services include everything from transportation to the Department of Economic Security, where residents can apply for aid programs, to a haircut. Medical attention, help with procuring legal documents and state-issued identification, as well as simply getting a bite to eat or looking for a job are all services provided by Project Connect.
Some people at the event were not homeless; those in danger of becoming homeless are encouraged to attend the events to seek aid from housing programs or assistance in finding a job. Others, homeless already, come to the monthly events regularly for bike repair, new clothes or to replace identification lost in the previous month.
“Project Connect is a one-stop-shop event where individuals who are experiencing homelessness or on the verge of experiencing homelessness can come and receive services in one day,” said Erika Moore, a community impact coordinator for the Valley of the Sun United Way.
More than 300 volunteers and 307 homeless, not to mention 20 corporate partners in the job fair section and emergency personnel on hand from the Mesa Fire Department, made for a very busy scene.
Grant Mickelson, who coordinated on behalf of the Church, said they spent about $1,500 on food. A member of the Church donated some 600 pounds of ice before simply running out. When a volunteer went to the local Sam’s Club to buy more, the club offered all the remaining ice the event needed, in excess of 200 pounds. A local company donated 1,000 donuts and another — 1,500 hot dog buns.
Mickelson explained that, originally, the United Way had a contracted food provider who backed out a few weeks before the event. The Church stepped up and provided the food through donations from members.
Jacob Schiller, a volunteer with United Way, summed up the event by saying people were most affected by the medical services and job resources, but he was impressed by the way the United Way treats its volunteers.
“I was looking to get involved and give back to the community,” said Schiller. “I think it’s a great thing to be involved with, helping people and just giving back.”
Molly Gallagher, a local mother living in transitional housing with her young son, said clothing, a haircut for her son, job hunting and housing were all on the list of things the event helped her with.
“I was able to find out about multiple housing programs within 30 minutes, and actually fill out applications and get on waiting lists, which I’ve been trying to do for weeks over the phone.”
Editor's note: The initial version of this article noted the event was at the Latter-day Saints Temple in Mesa. The event was actually at the Interstake Center in Mesa.
The event's attendance was listed originally at nearly 600; the United Way clarified the number of attendees was 307.