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Volunteers at inaugural Tempe health fair brave the elements

By

Emma Greguska

The gloom of Saturday’s rainstorm did nothing to dampen the spirit of the roughly 30 volunteers gathered at Sixth Street Park in Tempe for the first annual Student Health Outreach for Wellness (SHOW) Mill Avenue Health Fair.

For the past five years, the tri-university, student-led organization has held a similar annual outreach fair to provide health services to vulnerable populations in downtown Phoenix. Through field assessments and observations of the Tempe area, director of programs Samantha Matta and the students of SHOW came to realize there was a need there as well.

“We noticed that there was basically the same issue here as in Phoenix, and we already had this whole framework set up, so we thought we may as well use it in Tempe, too,” said Matta, a biochemistry senior at Arizona State University.

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Student volunteers and members from local schools and community organizations set up a series of booths on different topics at the SHOW health fair in Tempe on Saturday. Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

To fund expanding the health fair to Tempe, SHOW was awarded an ASU Woodside Community Action Grant. The students reached out to community organizations and city officials to secure volunteers and a location for the event.

“There are people living on the street who are chronically homeless, meaning they’ve been living on the street for many years with chronic, disabling conditions,” said Kim Van Nimwegen, the homeless solutions coordinator for Tempe who was contacted by SHOW to make sure the city’s outreach team helped spread the word about the health fair.

“Any time there is a low barrier of access for people to come as they are and get the kind of help they need, it’s just amazing, and we’re very thankful to the students who have the compassion and care to do this.”

On Saturday, volunteers from a number of community organizations and local schools filled the booths outside Tempe City Hall, offering health assessments, food, clothes and resources.

Beth Walker, a clinical assistant professor at ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation, provided blood sugar checks and shared smoking cessation and stress management tools.

“Anything that addresses the needs of the homeless and underserved is a priority for those in health care,” she said. “It’s also a great opportunity for students to interact with other disciplines. It’s very collegial and collaborative.”

Student volunteers from the A.T. Still University physician assistant program who were on hand to offer blood pressure testing spoke of health care’s transition toward a more holistic approach and how participating in the health outreach fair was a great real-world example of that in action.

Just a couple of booths down, students from ASU’s School of Social Work were putting together weatherproof emergency-contact cards to pass out that include numbers for local resources. The cards can be filled out to list an individual’s personal medical needs, such as allergies and medications. They were also handing out sweatshirts, snacks and mindfulness tips.

“Often people living outside or in shelters experience a lot of stress,” said Rachel Rios-Richardson, a social work graduate student at ASU. “But tips for coping skills is something that’s not typically offered to this population — who in my experience are extremely resilient — so we thought this could just add to their toolbox.”

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Spirits were high despite the rain for the volunteers and health care workers who helped out at SHOW's Tempe health fair. Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

Also braving the weather were volunteers from the local nonprofit Women4Women Tempe, who were passing out feminine hygiene products, which are often overlooked and sorely needed among homeless and underserved populations, and students from Midwestern University who were providing nutrition information and information about nearby food resources.

Jordan Walker, 18, who has lived in Tempe for six years, many of them on the street, said the information on how and where to get food and medicine was especially helpful. After visiting each booth, he sat down with the students at the social services table to enjoy a quick meal and some conversation. And despite the wetness and the chill around them, everyone was smiling.

Top photo: (From left) Psychology and biochemistry senior Kayla de Jesus, global health junior Nina Patel and biology junior Pnina Rokhlin pulled out their umbrellas to promote the SHOW health fair on Mill Avenue on Saturday. The student-led fair aimed to help connect homeless populations to health care resources. Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now