Connect with area families in need

These shoes were collected to be donated during last year’s Operation Community Connect event.

Organizers for Operation Community Connect are gearing up for what they expect to be another overwhelming show of need for their seventh annual October event.

The support program offers free hair cuts, hygiene and household products, clothing, legal services, dental cleaning and flu shots for area families in need. Mille Lacs County Community and Veteran Services’ Beth VanderPlaats volunteers her time with the program and said the need has been growing in recent years.

“Our first year we had about 70 people show up,” VanderPlaats said. “Last year we had over 300 people come out.”

She and fellow organizers, such as the Pease Christian Reform Church, are looking for sponsors to support the dental cleaning for children and flu shots, which run about $50 and $30 respectively. Sponsors can choose to support an entire dental cleaning or flu shot, or donate any amount toward that end. VanderPlaats said many families go without these essential health services, which can lead to more costly medical needs down the line.

VanderPlaats added that as grant opportunities are facing increased competition from cash-strapped non-profits, the organizers are faced with fewer funds while demand for their services has increased.

Hosted at Milaca’s Trinity Lutheran Church, past events have included free hair cuts from local beauticians, give-a-ways of children’s books, a meal prepared by members of Trinity’s congregation, and door prizes made possible by local businesses and vendors.

“We’re always trying to be creative in ways to get the community involved,” VanderPlaats said.

As the event’s slated Saturday, Oct. 18 date nears, Operation Community Connect is looking for donations to supply the needs of area families.

“Basically, we need anything the EBT can’t purchase,” VanderPlaats said.

The following items are especially appreciated:
•Feminine products
•Shaving razors
•Toilet paper
•Laundry detergent/softener
•Gently used clothing/shoes (especially winter gear)

Items can be dropped off at or mailed to the Mille Lacs County Community and Veterans Services office, 525 2nd St SE Milaca, MN 56353, near the county courthouse. Contributions should be addressed Attention: Beth VanderPlaats. Sponsorship forms are also available at the services office.

For the full story, see the Thursday, Sept. 6 print edition of the Times.