When Cindy Goehring saw a mother with her child crying with happiness that they could afford clothing for the winter, she knew the first annual Project Connect had a real impact on people in the community.
Members of more than a dozen organizations came together at the Aberdeen Civic Arena to offer a variety of social services and information to people in need of a hand up on Tuesday as part of the inaugural Project Connect in Aberdeen.
Goehring, the northeast regional director of Volunteers of America, said it was gratifying to see people getting the help they needed.
Project Connect gave information to people who are homeless, have inadequate housing or are in a difficult living situation. It also gave access to programs that can assist those in need in a variety of ways, including job hunting, getting housing or learning how to speak English.
"It's a one-stop shop for human services, agencies and resources," said Taylor Whitehead, an AmeriCorps and VISTA volunteer working with Lutheran Social Services.
People who attended the event also were offered a meal of hot pork sandwiches with fruits and vegetables, a free haircut and a chance to find affordable clothes at the makeshift thrift store.
Jenni Baldwin of Aberdeen said this type of event is important because it helps out people who are caught in difficult situations.
"I'm unemployed, raising a 20-month-old grandson and my 10-year-old son, so money has been tight," Baldwin said.
Baldwin said that she is married to a truck driver, but he's on the road so often it is basically her and the two children living together.
Being able to buy affordable clothing at the thrift store and find social services to help feed her family has been incredibly helpful, Baldwin said. She is not homeless, but would be much worse off without the social programs offered at Project Connect.
"They should do something like this every year," Baldwin said.
Baldwin said she has some medical ailments and is hopeful she can find out how to file for disability.
The event ran in conjunction with the third annual Veteran's Stand Down, which offers programs specifically designed to help former members of the military.
Project Connect is a program that originated in San Francisco and is held nationwide, Goehring said.
Groups in Aberdeen decided to hold a Project Connect event because of the difficulty in finding people who needed assistance, she said.
Every person who attended Project Connect filled out an anonymous survey that detailed their monetary, health and living situation, which should give social groups in the area a better idea of how many people are struggling, Whitehead said.
If attendance is high enough, Project Connect will be an annual event in Aberdeen, she said.
Lutheran Social Services, Safe Harbor, the Northeast Mental Health Center, Volunteers of America, the Aberdeen Housing Authority and the South Dakota Department of Labor were just a few of the organizations that took part in Project Connect.