Danny* was living under an overpass in Independence the day he found out about Project Connect.

“He was riding public transportation, picked up a magazine, and the Project Connect flier fell out,” remembered Suzanne Smith, director of network development for Health Care Collaborative of Rural Missouri (HCC). His eyes scanned the services offered at the one-day event, which was completely free and available … to him.

“Vision screenings,” Danny read. “Flu and tetanus shots. Height, weight, and blood pressure checks. Pregnancy tests. Dental extractions.”

His tooth throbbed. He’d been living with the pain for weeks. Here was the answer.

“He found a ride and was able to have his tooth pulled,” Smith said. “He got his hair and beard cut, received one voucher to get his birth certificate and another for a photo ID. He was then able to fill out paperwork to enroll in Medicaid. There was an employer there that was hiring and who also helped employees find a place to live. This man was able to come full circle by attending the event!”

HCC is a rural health care network of more than 50 organizations serving Missouri communities in Lafayette, Carroll, Ray, Saline, and Eastern Jackson counties. Several times a year, Project Connect events are held that do exactly that – connect the underinsured and uninsured with health care related services available at no cost to them.

“At each event, we hope to have between 100-150 people receive services,” Smith said. “Actually, with their families that attend with them, we usually serve 250-275.”

Here’s a snapshot of some of the services provided at Project Connect:

  • Medical, dental, and vision
  • Behavioral health
  • Nutrition education
  • Drug and alcohol recovery
  • Utility and emergency assistance
  • Women’s resources
  • SNAP/EBT enrollment and WIC information
  • ACA enrollment
  • Medicare/Medicaid enrollment
  • Veterans resources
  • GED referrals
  • Nursing care and assisted living information
  • Shelter recommendations

Also parked at Project Connect events is Diagnostic Imaging’s Mammography Van. “The uninsured aged 40 and over have their mammograms covered by the Susan B. Komen Foundation,” Smith said.

“This was an awesome event,” wrote one attendee. “I was put in contact with agencies that I didn’t know were in this area!” “Wonderful event!” wrote another. “Thank you so much for all the services in one place.”

The most recent Project Connect event was held at Higginsville High School in early November. “We are planning a Project Connect in February in Lexington, one in July in Odessa, and one in November 2020 in Higginsville,” Smith said. “We’re exploring the possibility of adding a Project Connect event in Carrollton as soon as school gets out for summer.”

Businesses, manufacturers, and individuals are invited to donate new or gently used items like furniture, bedding, paper products, and toiletries that HCC network members can distribute to those who need them through events like Project Connect. “We always need items that can’t be purchased with food stamps, such as toilet paper, women’s feminine hygiene products, deodorant, coats, and blankets,” Smith said. Hundreds of mattresses have been given away over the past year.

Say I’m a service provider who wants to sponsor a booth at the next Project Connect? Or a volunteer who wants to help? Or maybe I want to make a donation to support this great work? That’s easy: Contact Chris Carney at 660.259.2440 or chris.carney@hccnetwork.org and she will give you details.

“All of the volunteers and vendors who have a booth or volunteer at the event talk about how it changes their lives,” Smith said. “It is such a great feeling to help someone and to see how appreciative they are to receive the services.

“We invite all organizations to become involved. It is like having a mission trip in our own backyard, helping your community.”

Suzanne Smith is always happy to come and speak at any meeting about the Project Connect events or other services/programs that HCC offers. Contact her at 660.243.4574 or suzanne@hccnetwork.org. Read more about Project Connect at https://hccnetwork.org/project-connect/.