Lavette Miller isn't homeless. But it wasn't that long ago that she lacked a roof of her own above her head.
She said it's her strong will that helped her through many of the bad times in her life - including being shot in 1997, an injury that resulted in losing both her legs. Although she now has a home, Ms. Miller said Saturday that everybody still needs a little help.
Eating lunch at Tent City in the Civic Center Mall next to Toledo Police Department headquarters, Ms. Miller said she came to the annual event to get help obtaining her birth certificate. The service was just one of many offered to the area's homeless and underprivileged during the weekend-long event organized by 1Matters.org.
"Everybody needs help. Everybody needs something - even if it's just a random compliment," said Ms. Miller, a lifelong Toledo resident and 1987 graduate of Bowsher High School.
"People think that [homeless people] are drug addicts or alcoholics. That's not true," she added, addressing the hardships she had to overcome as a disabled woman in a wheelchair.
An annual event in Toledo for years, Tent City is a central location for those in need of help. Inside tents donated by locally owned Meredith Party Rentals, the homeless and underprivileged found a range of assistance from medical and dental services to free coats and free haircuts.
A small crowd awaits free exams at the mobile dentistry office. The service was just one of many offered to the area's homeless and underprivileged during the weekend-long event.
Hundreds of volunteers helped at the event, which began Friday and lasts through today. New this year was a march through downtown Toledo to raise awareness that "everyone matters."
Wearing shirts and sweatshirts that read "Walk 1 mile to make 1 matter," about 300 area residents walked from Promenade Park through downtown streets to the Civic Center Mall.
Sponsored by local media, the walk was proof that even daily competitors can come together to support the community, said Ken Leslie, founder of 1Matters.org.
"What's so powerful about this is that it's the entire community coming together," Mr. Leslie said as participants geared up in the brisk air for the inaugural walk.
Representatives of local television stations, radio stations, and newspapers addressed the gathered crowd predicting that the walk will become an annual awareness event.
Patrick and Joyce Rodgers walked with their two young children, ages 4 and 5, to show the importance of caring for members of the community in which they live. The family lives in North Toledo, and Mr. Rodgers said he stays in his neighborhood because it's a "really strong community that looks after each other."
"I just think it's important to be diverse because we have such a diverse society," said Mr. Rodgers, whose company, P3 Apparel, made the T-shirts worn by those walking. "We don't live in a bubble and you can't raise your family in a bubble."
Mr. Leslie said that he anticipates that the walk will grow - in participants locally and in numbers nationwide. He attributed the awareness raised by Grammy award-winning singer John Mellencamp, who not only produced public service announcements about the event but also donated concert tickets and an in-person meeting with the inaugural event's top fund-raiser.
Michael Stoops of the National Coalition for the Homeless, a Washington-based advocacy group, said Toledo's event successfully brings together those needing help with those willing to offer help. As more people lose their jobs and families lose their homes, the issue of homelessness continues to spare no one.
"Nobody's immune," he said, noting that about 40 percent of the country's homeless are families and about 25 percent are children under age 18. "The fact that we have allowed children to become homeless in our community is an indictment of us all."
Mr. Leslie said the group expected about 1,000 people in need would attend this year's event. Early numbers Saturday afternoon indicated that there would be significantly more. He added that more than 500 volunteers reported to help provide services to those who attended Tent City.
The events end today about noon. Breakfast will be served between 8 and 10 a.m., followed by an hour of worship services.
"The cool thing is, Toledo always responds," Mr. Leslie said. "Toledo always comes through."
Contact Erica Blake at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-213-2134.
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