09Project ConnectDuring this season of generosity, as we give of our time and treasure, shower loved ones with gifts and count our blessings, it can be hard to imagine what some people face every day. Jan. 1, from 8-10 a.m., the YMCA of the Sandhills will open its doors to those in the community in need of basic hygiene services. In addition to opening the facilities for people to shower, shave, brush their teeth and handle other personal hygiene tasks, the YMCA will provide towels, soap, shampoo, shaving products, toothbrushes and toothpaste and will also offer a continental breakfast.

Last year, the organization hosted the event, known as Project Connect, around Thanksgiving.

“We opted to move it because there are so many resources available to the homeless on Thanksgiving,” said Ector Simpson, event coordinator. “In thinking about how we could better reach the community, we asked what other providers were doing. While social responsibility is a component of our mission, it’s not our main mission – but we do have facilities to shower in. We thought this is something we could offer to people who may not have access to this. We can do it on New Year’s Day because the Y is closed.”

Simpson added that the event would be mostly staffed by volunteers. Opening its doors to the community for Project Connect could have been enough. But Simpson, along with executive director Sherrie Rallis and the others coordinating this event, wanted to reach as many people as possible.

“There are so many things we take for granted,” said Simpson. Access to facilities is one of them. “In many cities, the homeless have access to public transport – we have that here, but it is limited.” The solution, Simpson said, is to go into the community to the people they are trying to help.

“We have to get people to the Y,” said Simpson. “We have an after-school program during the week. We use these same vans to go around town to pick them up and bring them here and then take them back … we are trying to meet them where they are.

While many have a firm idea about what it means to be homeless, Simpson noted that it’s not that simple, saying, “Sometimes people have jobs but don’t get enough hours to earn enough to make rent, so they sleep in their cars. We are able to give scholarships (to some of them), and these people become our family. They come in every morning for a shower and then leave for work. Only at the end of the day they don’t go home – they sleep in their car.”

While the YMCA staff and volunteers will start their year off at the YMCA, Rallis noted that there are other ways people can help. “We are taking donations for hygiene products,” Rallis said. “Financial donations would be amazing, too. It would help us grow the scope of resources we can provide. Donations can be brought to the Y on Fort Bragg Road.” Items needed include soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, deodorant and other toiletries.

“It is amazing to see the spark of self-confidence and self-esteem (people get when they are able) to take away items that will help them,” Rallis said.

To find out how you can help or to learn more about the YMCA of the Sandhills, call (910) 426-9622.

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