By BRADEN LAMMERS
NEW ALBANY — A free checkup, a free haircut and a hot meal drew hundreds to downtown New Albany Saturday.
St. Mark’s United Church of Christ hosted its fifth annual neighborhood health fair, which provides health and wellness services to individuals in the community for free.
“We sit downtown, and we made a decision several years ago that we needed to figure out a way to open our doors and open our hearts to our community,” said Wendy Swisher, a coordinator for St. Mark’s health fair. “We wanted to be able to reach people that are underserved.”
The church partnered with WaterStep Ministries, the Lion’s Club and Floyd Memorial Hospital and Health Services — along with a number of other organizations — to offer those in need a chance to get regular health care needs and even a free haircut.
Free flu shots, HIV tests, blood pressure tests, blood sugar screenings and eye exams and glasses were all offered as part of the health fair.
Even in its inaugural year Swisher said the health fair was meeting the goals the church had hoped it would. The first year St. Mark’s held the event, Swisher said there was an elderly couple waiting outside well before the doors opened. But when Swisher told them they wouldn’t be open for three hours, they said that was OK and they would wait.
“They sat in the parking lot and waited for three hours to be able to get eyeglasses because they had no other resources,” she said. “So we were like OK, maybe this is the right thing to do.”
The number of visitors to the health fair over the past five years has ranged from 300 to 500. Swisher said she anticipated about 300 people would visit the health fair this year.
“There will be people that have no access to care and there’ll be people who have access,” Swisher said.
But whatever the level of need, the health clinic doesn’t turn people away.
By 11 a.m. — the health fair took place from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. — lines had already formed throughout the fair. One of the more popular destinations at the health fair is the eye care clinic. Located in the church’s sanctuary, people clogged the entrance waiting to get an appointment for an eye exam and, if necessary, a free pair of glasses.
“They’re giving out glasses today,” said Sandra Lawrence, a volunteer who was helping a family navigate through the health fair.
A host of frames and prescriptions were set up in the sanctuary, so after people are finished with the exam the glasses could be made on-site. If a special prescription was needed, the optometrists that volunteered their time Saturday will make the glasses and have them available for the person to pick up at a later date, Swisher said.
She said about 200 people were served in the vision clinic last year and 60 pairs of specialty glasses were made.
The eye clinic was the reason Ronnie Vincent, Sr. and his wife Debbie made the trek to the health fair from Sellersburg.
“They don’t realize how much it helps people ... and how much it means,” he said.
Swisher said the majority of the people that come to the health fair are from Floyd and Clark counties, but also serve people from areas like Scott and Harrison counties.
This year the church also connected with a Jeffersonville-based outreach group, Jesus Cares at Exit 0, to bus people from Clark County to downtown New Albany.
In addition to checkups, visitors were offered five items per person from the church’s clothes closet and a hot meal.
The cafeteria was also home to a resource center which provided access to a wide variety of information from LifeSpan Resources, Ivy Tech and Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous. In total, the resource center had contact information for 150 different organizations, Swisher said.
“We find that the people that come in have a wide variety of needs, some of which we’ll meet today, some of which we can’t meet,” she said. “So the resource center has been valuable. People can be a little overwhelmed by the number of things they can get today, and it sort of helps them figure out there are resources 365-days-[a-year], not just the one Saturday in February that we do this.”