Janella Jones began her Monday morning getting her blood sugar checked. Sitting in a chair, she pulled up her sleeve, then winced in anticipation of a prick to the tip of her finger. Afterward, her smile was back, bright as the strawberry-colored sweatshirt she wore. "Words can't describe what they do for you here," said the 35-year-old unemployed hairdresser/certified nursing assistant. "They have everything you need. They take your blood pressure. Give out clothes. Serve you food."
Jones was one of over 100 to attend the free health fair held on the third Monday of each month in Father Tryfon Hall at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. It's a one-stop shop for those in need and runs in conjunction with the church's Monday soup kitchen.
Tarpon Springs-based Health Care Ministries, an organization headed up by registered nurse Susan Traylor, has been holding the health fair in the church hall for the last five months. The ministry provides a conduit between the uninsured, the needy, the addicted and the homeless, and area health and social services.
"We operate on donations of time, talent and treasure," Traylor said. "We started two years ago with a card table and blood pressure cuff in a hot hallway in the old food distribution center of the Shepherd Center," she said. The Shepherd Center of Tarpon Springs provides food for this and other soup kitchens in the area.
At the health fair, long tables were stacked with donations of clothes and shoes. A playpen, baby swing, small pieces of furniture, and some cell phones would be given away that day.
Cases of water were available for the taking too.
"There isn't a drinking fountain in this town," Traylor said.
Medical professionals performed blood pressure and blood sugar screenings. Nurses helped people complete medical information for their own personal Vial of Life — a small container to be kept on hand so it can be accessed by medical personnel.
Vicki Ward roamed the hall with her therapy dog Molly, a Yorkshire terrier who loved doling out kisses.
"Oh, she's such a sweetheart," said Carla Drozdowski, giving the tiny dog a hug.
The volunteers made referrals to doctors and dentists and social service agencies.
"Each month we add some new agency or vendor that helps people," Traylor said. Free haircuts are often offered as well.
Charles Stickland, 56, is homeless.
"It's wonderful what they do here," said Stickland, who comes to the soup kitchen every Monday. "Everybody's always welcome."
Hosting a soup kitchen is a natural for a church, said the cathedral's new assistant priest, Father Gregory Trakas.
"That's what the Lord told us to do," he said, "and we have to be obedient to that command."
On this day, kitchen volunteers served up Sloppy Joes and baked beans.
"It was all very good," said John Harris, 49. After he finished eating, he transitioned into the role of volunteer, put on an apron and began carrying out trash and cleaning up the kitchen.
"When everybody pitches in, it all works out," he said.
Janella Jones, the one in the strawberry sweatshirt, also found a way to give back. When one woman couldn't find shoes in her size, Jones took the shoes off her own feet and gave them to her. She then found another pair in the free shoe box.
"They help you and you've got to give back," Jones said.
Correspondent Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at email@example.com.