Kids got cotton candy. Pets got microchipped. People got haircuts. And everyone was glad to gather as the Open House Ministries Community Block Party and Outreach Resource Fair returned Thursday for the first time in two years.
Vancouver community members began gathering around 1 p.m. in the sunny August weather to eat and meet fellow attendees. Some wandered around the outdoor and indoor tables, where more than 31 exhibitors offered services and information. Others stood in line for lunch or to dunk the Open House Ministries chaplain. A group of attendees began singing along to faith music, arms stretched into the sky.
Open House Ministries, a faith-based family shelter for people experiencing homelessness, hosted its annual block party at its campus in downtown Vancouver. The block party featured a free barbecue lunch, haircuts, a dunk tank, games and a fashion show, among other activities. The event was open to all.
“For the homeless that are either unhoused or housed down in a tent, maybe in transitional housing, they can just come down,” said Open House Ministries Executive Director Renee Stevens. “There are a lot of resources here, all the way from your pet getting shots, to cotton candy, to face painting, to mental health, drug and alcohol services.”
The event returned this year following a two-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stevens said the organization hoped to feed at least 500 people at the event.
Shayla Toliver, a 36-year-old Vancouver resident, attended the event with her five children. She watched her kids running around as she ordered some freshly made cotton candy for them.
She and her kids came to enjoy the fun, Toliver said. They were excited to walk in the fashion show later in the afternoon where they would model clothing from the thrift store staffed by Open House Ministries residents.
Toliver has been a resident at Open House Ministries’ shelter for five months. The organization is currently sheltering about 100 residents, more than half of whom are children.
“It’s a blessing to be here at Open House,” Toliver said. “It opens a lot of doors for families and individuals.”
The Humane Society for Southwest Washington provided community members with free preventive pet care, including vaccinations, flea and tick treatments and microchipping. They also provided free pet food, collars, leashes, harnesses and wellness exams.
Darby Knox, the Humane Society’s vice president of development and marketing, said the organization plans to offer more services to low-income people who are unable to access veterinary care. “What we want to do is keep pets and people together,” Knox said. “Animals keep people healthier. It’s your emotional support, the unconditional love. It’s so important for people’s well-being.”
Knox said she expected some 50 pets to make it to the event.
Several other local service providers were present at the block party, including Council for the Homeless, Family Promise and Share, with each offering information and services at tables staffed by volunteers.
The main goal of the block party, according to Stevens, is community.
“In our time in the world, when things look so hopeless, we want to show hope,” she said. “We want to let people in the community know that we care about them. If they’re hurting and they need healing, they can come here.”
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