Tent City pops up in downtown Toledo to help homeless community

Tent City is underway in downtown Toledo (WNWO).

TOLEDO, Ohio (WNWO) -- The annual Tent City event is underway to help the homeless community in Toledo.

Held on the Civic Center Mall in downtown, the event does more than provide shelter and a hot meal; organizers call it a festival of compassion.

"It's the relationships, it's a different experience down here, we have signs up that say the corner of love and compassion that's definitely what it is, everybody here wants to be here and wants to help each other not just the volunteers but the guests," said Maddy Dudek.

Dudek is this years mayor of Tent City, and started volunteering at the event six years ago when she was in 8th grade.

The "city" pops up on Jackson Street every year, to serve the homeless community and those in need.

"You wouldn't believe how much this brings to people," said Kerry Heck who used to be homeless, but still attends the event for the people and entertainment.

The event provides hot meals, shelter and helps individuals get ID cards and birth certificates, as well as haircuts and professional medical exams.

"Last year they did, I think, 23 mammograms and 7 of the women needed follow up care as a result of the mammograms. So being able to provide access to services to people that don't find it readily accessible I think is one of the most powerful things," said Ken Leslie, 1 Matters advocate in chief.

Michele Ross has been volunteering with the event for over a decade, ever since she first attended as a homeless guest and decided to make a change.

"So I came down to downtown Toledo to just kind of fade away, let myself just fade into the sidewalk and it worked for awhile, until people reached out and Tent City was a big part of that," said Ross.

Ross was addicted to drugs and met a couple at Tent City that helped her turn her life around. This weekend she is celebrating 11 years of sobriety, by volunteering at the same event that changed her life.

"It's really good to give back where you've been given, because what good would it do if I would go on with my life and not help out where someone helped me," said Ross.

Organizers say they usually serve between 800 to 1,000 members of the homeless community each year.

Though the guests aren't the only ones leaving with a little something extra.

"Every single person whether they are a guest, a donor, or a volunteer all take something different out of it. 1,500 people come down over the weekend between the guests and the volunteers and 1,500 stories leave. It's amazing to see that, to see those relationships," said Leslie.

Tent City runs until Sunday at the Civic Center Mall on Jackson Street between Spielbusch Avenue and North Erie Street.

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