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Published: Wednesday, 1/12/2011

Community Resource Fair offers helping hand, from housing to gas bills

Megan Ewing needs a job. The 21-year-old lost a position as an office assistant in the spring. Since then, she's been job-hunting, but to no avail. So she decided she needs a new skill set.

Tuesday the Whitmer High School graduate braved the snow to visit her alma mater for the Washington Local Schools' annual Community Resource Fair, which featured more than 50 agencies and organizations offering assistance and, in Ms. Ewing's case, education. She spoke with a representative of the Professional Skills Institute, a private college, about training to be a medical assistant.

"I think I'd have a better shot [at a job] with something like that," she said. "I got lots of information."

Which is exactly what the fair's organizers want.

"Our purpose is to offer a one-stop shop for people in need of assistance," explained Sara Hoffman, a junior high school counselor who helped organize the fair.

Whitmer English teacher Todd Buck, another organizer, said more than 400 members of the public attended last year's fair, "but I expect the weather will hold down the number this year."

Participants, whose representatives sat at tables in the cafeteria, came from a broad range of fields and included the Ability Center, the AIDS Resource Center, the Fair Housing Center, Maumee Valley Habitat for Humanity, Hospice of Northwest Ohio, Mobile Meals of Toledo, and Ohio Consumers Counsel.

Sunina Patel, an education-case manager with Dental Center of Northwest Ohio, was there to answer inquiries about the cut-price dental care her nonprofit offers for people who can't afford their own dentist.

"We accept Medicaid, which most dentists don't," she said. "And kids whose families don't have dental insurance can get dental care for a $25 flat fee. I'm surprised at how many people are admitting that they don't have a dentist or haven't seen a dentist in more than a year."

Melissa Alvarado, bilingual information and referral specialist with United Way 211, the agency's round-the-clock referral service, said the queries she received tended to focus on assistance in paying for rent and utilities.

"People ask about food pantries too. It's a difficult time and a lot of people have run out of unemployment compensation," she said.

At the Bethany House table, case manager Dan'll Wilson disseminated information about the long-term transitional housing available for victims of domestic violence and their children.

"Most of our women stay about six months. We have 14 families now, which puts us at full capacity." she explained. "A of times when they come to us, they have left everything behind. We provide everything from laundry soap to toilet paper."

Many of the people looking for help did not want to put their difficulties on the public record. But Sharon Jones of West Toledo was an exception. She said she couldn't pay her gas bill and planned to stop at the Columbia Gas of Ohio table to see what options she might have.

"I'll take any assistance I can get," she said.

Contact Carl Ryan at: carlryan@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.

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