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story.lead_photo.caption CIndy Leveron, from First Christian Church, hands out backpacks containing hygiene products, socks and other useful items during Friday's Project Homeless Connect at The Salvation Army. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Bill Pease sat nervously under a small blue pavilion late Friday morning as he watched Donna Seidel, a registered nurse with the Cole County Health Department, prepare an influenza vaccination for him.

"I don't like needles — they make me nauseous," he told her.

Seidel reassured him as she cleaned a spot on his tattooed right shoulder for the injection. He looked away, and seconds later, the deed was done.

Pease received three vaccinations Friday — for influenza, hepatitis A and Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) — as part of the annual Project Homeless Connect event in Jefferson City.

The gathering is intended to connect Jefferson City's homeless population with shelter or housing, counseling, food and clothing donations, identification cards, medical checkups and health screenings, and other services.

It is normally held at downtown churches, but because of social distancing concerns and to help prevent spread of COVID-19, organizers downsized and limited it to one location: The Salvation Army Center of Hope on Jefferson Street.

Seidel said the county asks guests of the project if they've had any of the vaccinations. If they haven't, the county offers all three. Pease was among the first to receive them all Friday.

After Seidel vaccinated Pease, he rolled down his T-shirt sleeve and explained getting the tattoos was different.

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"The needles don't go as deep, and I was probably drunk or high at the time," Pease said. "Now, I follow the good man upstairs."

He held up a black metal cross hanging from his neck.

"My prayers got answered," he continued.

Pease is staying at The Salvation Army temporarily. He attends church services regularly, he said.

It was a convenience for Pease, he said, that organizers held Project Homeless Connect in The Salvation Army parking lot.

Organizers tried to make attendance at the project as simple and painless as they could. They provided transportation to the Community Health Center of Central Missouri for health screenings and to the pharmacy at Schnucks, where participants could pick up prescriptions.

They gave participants backpacks filled with socks, washcloths, face masks, hygiene items, first aid kits, soaps, antibiotic ointment, hand sanitizer, bandages and other items.

In previous years, the project offered a gymnasium "store," where participants might pick out clothes. Instead, this year, the project gave participants vouchers for The Salvation Army Thrift Store and provided transportation if participants wanted to go find clothing.

The Salvation Army provided lunch for everybody who attended the entirely outdoor event, Center of Hope Director Brian Vogeler said.

Within its first hour, about 70 people signed in, volunteers said. (In each of the past two years, the project has served about 200 people.)

"We wanted to make sure this could still be put on," Vogeler said. "This was a way that we could still have Project Homeless Connect."

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