BELLINGHAM - Hundreds of people showed up to get their eyes checked, their teeth worked on and their hair cut Friday, July 25, during a one-day event at Bellingham High School to help the homeless and the poor.
Called Project Homeless Connect, the sixth annual effort also brought in hundreds of volunteers and service providers to offer that aid, which seemed as necessary now as ever.
"We had a line almost to Cornwall (Avenue) this morning," said Dan Hammill, program director for The Volunteer Center of Whatcom County and one of the event organizers.
Inside the school and down one crowded hallway, a woman picking up a small bag of essential items - with signs reading Love, Hope, Faith tucked inside - gave a thank you to Carolyn Colwell.
Colwell, a Lynden resident who was there as a member of Sonlight Women's Ministry, stood behind one table holding the bags and a second table piled high with socks donated by Sonlight Community Church and through her business, Your City Sports.
Colwell, who noticed how much socks were in demand when she volunteered at the event last year, said she was there Friday because helping others is a part of life.
"They need socks and it's a simple thing," she said. "We're called to be of service to other people and to help other people in need."
The ministry had created more than 200 bags of essential items, which included tissue, lip balm and bandages, and its volunteers were giving away more than 400 pairs of socks.
Across the hallway, people were selecting free blankets and, elsewhere, were picking up clothing.
Project Homeless Connect provided an array of free and confidential services that included hearing screenings, medical exams, women's health care, information on veterans' benefits, legal aid and housing help, as well as breakfast and lunch.
Maple Falls resident Marc Wesley, 45, took a one-hour bus ride in for the services, which included jackets for his children.
"I've heard about this, but I've never been to one of these before," he said. "I got some nice jackets for the kids for the winter coming up. It's a great thing they put together here."
Wesley, who wore glasses, also had hoped to get his eyes checked, but said the wait was too long.
If some services were meant to help stabilize those in need, others gave them a little something special - from haircuts to photos to a sketch of themselves.
Rayme Thompson, 13, was among those who sat for a sketch artist courtesy of Whatcom Museum.
"I wanted to do it for the experience," the Bellingham girl said. "It turned out good."
She was there with her mother, 40-year-old Jennifer Harms.
They had just moved from Lewis County and were at the event to see what services were available - with Harms saying they had appointments for vision and dental care - and whether their insurance would be accepted by providers.
Harms said they might look at available clothing, as well as check into medical services.
"I think it's great what they're doing," Thompson said as she sat next to her mother.
Melody Pittman, of Bellingham, and Daniel Simmons, of Lynden, were among the estimated 200 volunteers there to help. They were greeting people as they entered the school to seek service.
To Pittman, who had been homeless, it was about helping others who were struggling, and lending her skills now that her life was on the "up and up."
"I want to give back what Bellingham gave to me," she said.
Simmons also talked about giving back to the community and doing his part.
"I know there are a lot of people who need help," he said. "All of us volunteering together make a difference, and I want to be part of that."
Reach Kie Relyea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2234.