By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — While there may truly be no such thing as a free lunch, Project Community Connect is coming as close as it can.
The event is back for a third year of bringing dozens of agencies under one roof to offer help to the poor and homeless. On Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Verizon Wireless Center, attendees will be able to get dental screenings, cell phones, confidential HIV testing, child care for children up to 8 years old, employment assistance, haircuts and more. All for free.
And, yes, lunch. Organizers have ordered 700 of them, said Kari Jones, community services clerk at Minnesota Valley Action Council.
MVAC is one of several nonprofits and government agencies to help organize the event.
The Greater Mankato Area United Way donates money to rent the civic center, among other contributions, and Partners for Affordable Housing has also helped organize the event, Jones said.
Stylists and photographers will again be donating their time.
The event is modeled after its counterparts in larger cities, and local groups are improving it each year, she said.
Other services offered include: legal advice, interpreting, veterans’ services, vouchers for ID and birth certificates and financial literacy. The free cell phones have 250 minutes every month for one year and are disbursed as part of a federal program.
Because the event is held during Mankato schools’ spring break, Jones said she hopes lots of families will bring children and take advantage of the child care. Teenagers as young as 16 can also benefit from an MVAC program that temporarily pays the employee’s wages, with the possibility of the job becoming permanent if the employer opts to start paying those wages.
Organizers are also helping attendees get to the event by offering free bus rides. There are also a limited number of vouchers for free taxi rides. Jones said the taxi services are offered to attendees who don’t live near bus lines.
For more information on transportation assistance, call Jones at 507-389-6968.