Facing record numbers of homeless right here in central Nebraska and facing the harsh reality that winter weather is here, hundreds of volunteers come together as a force for good in Grand Island.
It's called Project Homeless Connect, a one–stop shop for those homeless or close to it. Services included everything from haircuts to housing, even food and foot care.
Hope Harbor Executive Director Melissa DeLaet said, "We're hoping to hit some of those people who maybe just need a little bit of a boost to keep themselves self–sufficient."
That includes unemployed truck driver Butch Lamb and his wife Patty, who find themselves struggling.
"You don't know if it's getting better or worst, but a lot of times it's getting worse," Butch said.
Proving they can be a force for the better, 200 volunteers powered Project Homeless Connect, helping those who might have hit some rough patches in their lives.
Nurse Clare Schmidt was there to smooth things over, providing foot care.
She scrubbed feet, clipped toenails, and performed a physical exam.
"This is really hands–on," she said, as she massaged lotion into a rough foot. "I'm a nurse and so we check between the toes to make sure there aren't any cuts or openings."
One of her patients was Patty Lamb, whose diabetes makes foot care much more important. Schmidt said Patty could injure herself just clipping her nails, because she has lost feeling in her feet.
From flu shots to food, the sheer volume of help was overwhelming to Butch Lamb. He said, "I was really surprised. There's a lot for everybody."
With 40 agencies providing countless services, each client had a personal guide.
"I'm a navigator today," Sally Schnell explained as she joined Butch and Patty through each booth at the Grand Island Evangelical Free Church.
Grand Island shelters are at record capacity. DeLaet, head of Hope Harbor said they have record numbers of children. She said transitional housing demand was up 30 percent in 2011, and 2012's numbers will show another increase.
She added that more may not know where their next meal or bed will come from. So this event stands in the gap.
DeLaet said, "It's amazing to see what our community can do. I knew Grand Island could do it but to see the whole event come together and everyone we've worked so hard for is amazing."
In addition to the one-stop service center, buses shuttled people to pick-up spots across town, and also to St. Leo's Catholic Church, which planned its annual coat drive in conjunction with the big homeless outreach event.
The VA hospital also coordinated its "Stand Down" program for homeless veterans to take place at the Evangelical Free Church.
Project Homeless Connect is a model that's been used nationally, and across the state. This was the first, but not the last time for Grand Island.
With 175 people helped, DeLaet said organizers are already thinking about next year and helping more people.