Mark Abrell had no money and no medical or dental insurance, so he suffered for more than a month with a toothache.
Then he came to the eighth annual Project Homeless Connect on Thursday and, when he left, the 54-year-old Chattanooga man was talking through a wad of cotton blocking the hole where his bad tooth had been.
"It's been great," Abrell said. "I got shoes, got pants, got dog food and got a dog leash. My dog got more than I did."
Abrell was one of at least 500 people making use of the 30 to 40 free social service and health care agencies that Project Homeless Connect Coordinator John Dorris brought under one roof at the National Guard Armory.
More than 100 volunteers helped serve food, some distributed toys, others gave massages and some people drove vans to make the event accessible to those with no transportation. Dental hygienists from Chattanooga State Community College assisted three local dentists with tooth extractions; Big River Grille provided food and Virginia College did free hair styling.
Legal Aid of East Tennessee offered access to free counsel, and Kat Hoffman Flynt was among more than a dozen volunteers who transformed piles of donated clothes into a free clothing store.
"This is our one day working at the Gap," Hoffman Flynt joked while folding clothes.
"Can I find your size?" Flynt asked attendees, then bagged the clothes after selections were made.
Red, yellow and green balloons floated in the air and tables with red, white and blue identification banners were at the entrance ways to direct people as they entered the armory.
Chattanooga State dental assistants Traci Orr and Alyssa Harwood passed out toothbrushes while another woman distributed toys to small children.
"They have been very helpful, extremely nice," said 53-year-old Savanna Morgan, who waited for services at the event.
She felt lumps on both sides of her breasts more than a year ago and was worried because her mother had cancer. She had no money for a mammogram and, like Abrell, she also had no health insurance.
But at Project Homeless Connect, the MaryEllen Locher Breast Center provided mammograms at no charge.
"It costs a lot to get all of this stuff done. This is great," Morgan said.
Dorris stood in the center of the floor, wearing a green-and-blue striped sweater and talking to people during the event. He said he wanted attendees to receive as many services as possible and he wanted each to know that people care about him or her.
"So we're hoping that they come away with a sense of being a part of the community," he said.
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...