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Forty-six volunteer vendors offered services Thursday at the HEART to Heart Resource Fair, held Thursday at the Boys & Girls Club of Albany.

The event, organized through the city of Albany's Homeless Enrichment and Rehabilitation Team (HEART), began with just six vendors, and has since grown into an annual happening.

More than 100 homeless or low-income families came to this year's event, where they had access to free dental screenings and extractions, vision checks, cancer screenings and even haircuts. Visitors also learned about career and school opportunities available social services, and other programs.

Albany residents and first-time fairgoers James and Melissa Vogel were excited to get bags of food for their four cats from SafeHaven Humane Society, on hand to provide pet information for low-income families.

"I'm just amazed at all the services," said James Vogel, who also volunteers at Signs of Victory homeless shelter.

The Vogels met working at Walmart, and James has since moved on to working at Fred Meyer. As both work part-time, they say the fair is a great help.

Picking out some complimentary reading glasses, Albany residents Andy and Dorothy Smith were also appreciative of the fair.

"It's great because it's giving back to the community," said Andy Smith.

The community-contribution element is a big one at the event; all the vendors volunteer their time, and on another level, it provides educational and professional opportunities to college students.

Oregon State University seniors Laura Clendaniel and Liz Newman volunteered as interns with Samaritan Health Services to help with cancer screenings. Clendaniel will graduate in June with a human development and family science degree, while Newman will graduate with a public health degree. Both women said working at the fair has been eye-opening.

"For me, it's a shock," said Newman, explaining how she discovered one barrier to service for many people is in simply filling out the paperwork.

"We're helping people who can't read or write," she said. "For us, maybe the challenge is just learning how to get to the screening. But if we can't even read the flyer, then that's a different problem."

While many of the vendors offer direct goods and services to visitors, others offer less tangible or immediate help. Jennifer Morris, development director for the Corvallis-based Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence, stood at her booth, offering information and a resource for people who may need it. The center maintains a hotline and a 24-hour emergency shelter for victims.

While her booth offers a modest bowl of candy, she said she's not surprised that not too many people visit.

"People may not feel safe talking to us here, but what's valuable is that we make our resource known," she said. 'We're not passing out toothbrushes, but we're here to offer safety."

Contact reporter Neil Zawicki at 541-812-6099.

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