ELKHART – For the last 14 years, the annual health fair sponsored by the Minority Health Coalition in Elkhart, Indiana, provided immunizations needed for kids to start the school year.

In a city with unemployment at nearly 19 percent, organizers knew this year’s event needed to be bigger – and needed to provide more than just booster shots.

“We were on ground zero to be able to see how broad a need that there is,” said Rod Robertson, one of the planners for the event and city council president.

Elkhart has a population of around 55,000. “To have 5,500 people come to be served it was just beyond anyone’s imagination,” said Robertson.

The line for help stretched for blocks alongside Elkhart’s former Roosevelt elementary school. More than five thousand people — unemployed and under employed came for school backpacks and supplies, immunizations, and food — all free.

“Due to the economic situations and everything, people are no longer ashamed to come out and this is just awesome,” said Eulah Mitchell, a Pierre Moran Middle School social worker. She has seen the impact Elkhart’s economy has had on families at her school.

“Families aren’t bringing the residents in, I work in a nursing home, they can’t even afford to bring the residents in to get ‘em taken care of and stuff so it has affected the nursing world too. I mean everybody’s taken affect to this,” said Betina Pratcher who is raising her son and two nieces on a shrinking work schedule.

“It affected us for awhile, that’s why we’re here. But it’s a blessing to see how much they’re doing for us. You know, we haven’t had this much done for us forever,” said Pratcher.

Churches, service clubs, and social service agencies pitched in to help, giving away 3,500 backpacks, 1,200 sets of back-to-school clothes, along with 1,400 boxes of food.

“In the greater Roosevelt area the population by census is approximately a third Latino, a third African-American and a third Caucasian,” said Robertson. “The need is so great you can never really quench the thirst. But what you can do is all you can do.”

While a niece and brother are in prison, Tabatha Royal has custody of their seven children.

“What I see here is much love. It’s hard for us and the economy for us is really bad. We makin’ it by the grace of God. We got a lot of support that’s behind us,” said Royal.

Visit msnbc.com to learn more about The Elkhart Project and to view more stories from Elkhart

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