Fifth annual event takes place at Paso Robles Event Center

PASO ROBLES — Gina went through the clothes on the tables Wednesday morning looking for jackets and sweaters, anything that could provide some warmth and protection from the cold and wet winter months ahead.

Gina is homeless, unless sleeping along the Salinas Riverbed is considered a residence, and did not want to provide her full name.

“I need everything and I know people who do too,” she said. “We are freezing, we are cold, we are starving.”

She piled the clothes one after another on her right shoulder. Her hair still wet from the haircut she received minutes before was clinging tightly to her head. The weight of the clothes caused her to lean to one side as she made her way to the back of the Paso Robles Event Center’s Estrella Building to eat lunch from Paso Cares — possibly her only meal of the day.

“I am looking for anything warm, tents, blankets you name it because it is going to start raining soon,” Gina said. “I collect anything I can for those who can’t come get it because I don’t want anybody to have to suffer. I believe in making the world a better place.”

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Shaunna Parker of Paso Robles Supercuts finishes up a haircut at CommUNITY Connection on Wednesday, Oct. 30, at the Paso Robles Event Center.
Photo by Brian Williams

The clothes were provided by Patty Beck at the fifth annual CommUNITY Connection in North San Luis Obispo County. Beck is retired and volunteers at 40 Prado, a newly opened homeless center in San Luis Obispo. She’s been bringing clothes to the Connection events for the past three years. She gets the clothes from Goodwill and other entities. 

“When I retired this was just a continuation of helping people get back on their feet,” said Beck, who has been volunteering for most of her adult life. “It’s just a good way to directly give to people who can use them.”

CommUNITY Connection is organized by the County of San Luis Obispo Department of Social Services with help from major sponsors The Community Foundation, CenCal Health and Dignity Health.

It is an outreach event for all community members “for seniors, for veterans, for homeless, for families, for students, for anyone that might need some type of assistance,” said Jessica Lorance, SLO County CommUNITY Connection Event Coordinator. “We’ve got 45 providers signed up today offering a wide range of services from educational services to health care. We are offering flu vaccines today, haircuts and housing assistance.”

The event was first held in Paso Robles. It was originally called MASH (Mobile Assistance and Services Addressing Homeless) and was jump-started by Mayor Steven Martin.

It’s held three other times throughout the year around the county. 

“It’s extremely important in the North County because some of the services are not offered here,” Lorance said pointing out that not all of the agencies have a physical location in North County. “For folks that have transportation issues, this is their big opportunity to get it all at once. At our very first event, a very kind gentleman came up to me with tears in his eyes and gave me a huge hug and said, ‘I got more done today at this event than I had the whole year because I had no way to get around to these agencies.’”

Most of the local, county, stage and federal agencies provided tangible services on site. A few of the services provided included Supercuts giving haircuts, the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County handing out bags of food and Community Health Center giving flu shots.

“Those that can offer services are absolutely doing that today,” Lorance said.

Karen Andrews and Amanda Fitzsimmons, both from the Cuesta College Veterans Resource Centers at the campuses in SLO and Paso Robles, provided people with information about the community college.

“A lot of them don’t know how to get started,” Andrews said.

“We walk them through the process,” Fitzsimmons added.

Organizers expected between 100 and 200 people to attend the North County CommUNITY Connection.

“I wish more people would come,” Andrews said. “There are so many organizations here.”

For more information, visit slocounty.ca.gov.