Resource fair attracts donations for Petersburg, Wrangell

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The U.S. Coast Guard Anacapa crew arranges donations on the cutter’s fantail before transferring the garments to volunteers in Wrangell Harbor. (Photo courtesy of US Coast Guard)

A large volume of clothing donations collected for a homeless resource fair in Petersburg this winter benefits other communities in Alaska.

Like other places across the country, Petersburg holds an annual Project Connect Resource Fair to distribute resources and assistance to homeless and non-homeless people in a permanent housing situation.

The Petersburg-based organization Humanity In Progress collected donations of clothing and supplies for the event, which was held on January 26. This surplus amounted to approximately 40 boxes of used clothing. And he was transported by the US Coast Guard Cutter Anacapa to volunteers from the Wrangell organization BRAVE, or Building Respect And Valuing Everyone.

“I really, really want to thank the Coast Guard for being part of our transportation system,” said BRAVE Treasurer Joan Sargent of Wrangell. “And I’m glad we’re taking things and recycling them to benefit those who need them and those who don’t.”

Anacapa crew member Thomas Dillbeck unloads donated clothing for delivery to BRAVE volunteers in Wrangell Harbor this month. (Photo courtesy of US Coast Guard)

Sargent said volunteers are sorting through clothes this month and planning sellouts in April and May as a fundraiser for the Wrangell organization. She is also Wrangell’s representative on the board of Ketchikan’s Women In Safe Homes, or WISH.

“I’ve had a call before about some things directed at the WISH shelter,” Sargent said. “And we identified some of the things as being a bit heavy, like they looked like things that maybe were used by people who worked on the (north) slope. So we have people within our group who would be willing to bring these items to Fairbanks for their rescue mission there. So it will probably end up statewide.

Sargent says Petersburg dons from a similar two-year event also ended up with BRAVE in Wrangell and went to several shelters.

This year the fifth Project Connect Fair took place in Petersburg. Organizations also use it to count the number of people who say they are homeless or in a temporary housing situation.

Humanity in Progress President Kawashima told the Petersburg Borough Assembly this month that the information is important for federal funding through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“They’ve already said they’re going to fund future funding for low-income housing projects, increasing resources for homeless people in communities that regularly do this data survey,” Kawashima said. “So not only are we doing this to help people, but it’s really important information for us.”

Kawashima reported that this year’s event had 106 attendees who self-identified as experiencing housing insecurity. 26 people reported living in a temporary situation like sleeping on someone else’s couch. Ten people reported living in a place not intended for habitation, either in a vehicle or outdoors.

These numbers have increased slightly over the past two years and include children and families.

In 2021, the fair had around 80 participants. 27 said they couch surfed and eight people said they lived outdoors or in a vehicle. The count in 2020, before the COVID pandemic, had about 100 participants. 23 said they were in a temporary housing situation such as couch surfing and five people said they lived in a non-residential location.

And Kawashima said the data is not complete.

“Those are just the people we could get to come to our event,” she said. “So it’s not a complete picture of what’s going on in the community, but it’s a really good starting point so that we can hopefully continue to have conversations about the future, the connecting with these people and loving the work we do.”

Other Petersburg SHARE coalition agencies participated in the resource fair, including Petersburg Medical Center, Public Health, Petersburg Indian Association and WAVE, the local advocacy association. Kawashima said there were also financial donations from First Bank and the Elks Club and many volunteers who helped make it happen.

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