32 receive free dental services courtesy of Mission Smiles

Published on: February 10, 2016

By PENNY FLETCHER

Dr. Blake Thompson says “open wide” at the Mission Smiles traveling dental clinic Feb. 6 in Sun City Center, hosted by the United Methodist Church. The ministry started in 2011 and has already served hundreds of people who are 150 percent below the federal poverty line. Penny Fletcher photos.

Dr. Bryan Thatcher  says “open wide” at the Mission Smiles traveling dental clinic Feb. 6 in Sun City Center, hosted by the United Methodist Church. The ministry started in 2011 and has already served hundreds of people who are 150 percent below the federal poverty line. Penny Fletcher photos.

More than $154,800 in free dental work was performed in 2015 by the relatively new ministry, Mission Smiles, according to Program Director Kathy McGartland.

“This ministry became a thought in 2009, and actually started in 2011,” McGartland said as she prepared the dental chairs and sterilized instruments for volunteer dentists Bryan Thatcher and Blake Thompson, both DMDs (doctors of dental medicine) and their assistants, last Saturday at the Sun City Center United Methodist Church.

It’s a “traveling” Christian ministry, and the volunteers pray with the “guests” if the guests so desire, but they are not required to state a belief to receive services.

On Saturday, 32 people were served at the church with 37 dental services, at a value of $7,325.

The guests all had to be 150 percent below the government poverty line annually to benefit, and when they got there, they received services ranging from hygiene and fillings to extractions.

Some guests, when asked, said they had not visited a dentist in many years because of the cost.

penny fletcher photos Dental clinic volunteers (all either dentists or assistants) from left, bottom row, are Dr. Blake Thompson, Melissa O’Dell, Shu Chang and Dr. Bryan Thatcher. Above them, from bottom: Carmen Thomas, Sonia Sullivan and Kathy McGartland, program manager. Karissa Stone, Megan Eddy and Mireya Galvan, hygienists, were working at the time the photo was taken.

Dental clinic volunteers (all either dentists or assistants) from left, bottom row, are Dr. Blake Thompson, Melissa O’Dell, Shu Chang and Dr. Bryan Thatcher. Above them, from bottom: Carmen Thomas, Sonia Sullivan and Kathy McGartland, program manager. Karissa Stone, Megan Eddy and Mireya Galvan, hygienists, were working at the time the photo was taken.

The names of eligible guests are compiled in advance by churches and service organizations, and Mission Smiles calls them in advance, tells them where the ministry van will be, and the day and time they will begin.

The work is done in one day at each location on a first-come-first-served basis, where efficient volunteers and dental workers move people through quickly and with (at least) the same amount of courtesy as if the clients were paying top dollar.

The inside of the Mission Smiles van is set up with two dental stations, each a small but complete dental office able to handle even complicated procedures, including extractions and deep fillings.

As the two dentists and their assistants worked nonstop, hygienists also saw patients in a room provided by the church. Another room was set aside for waiting clients, complete with snacks and beverages, where volunteers moved among them constantly, making them feel at home.

Mission Smiles and church volunteers alike said none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for having the van.

Larry Hopkins takes on the duty of van driver and is available for maintenance between trips as well.

“It’s such a blessing,” said volunteer Patricia Jones, who took photos of the event for the church newsletter. “The van was found in somebody’s backyard with vines growing on it.”

From left: Pat Hill, Patricia Jones, Barbara Lamneck, Heidi Evans and Anne Hasler take a brief break from signing in clients and handing out duties to volunteers. Don Hinderliter, center, recently elected chairman of the Mary Petro Fund, was observing the Mission Smiles event for possible future support by the Fund.

From left: Pat Hill, Patricia Jones, Barbara Lamneck, Heidi Evans and Anne Hasler take a brief break from signing in clients and handing out duties to volunteers. Don Hinderliter, center, recently elected chairman of the Mary Petro Fund, was observing the Mission Smiles event for possible future support by the Fund.

Dr. Bryan Thatcher works on a filling.

Dr. Bryan Thatcher works on a filling.

Dr. Blake Thompson

Heidi Evans, Barbara Lamneck and Pat Hill manned a greeting table just inside the entry, and made sure everyone was sent through the proper channels.

Don Hinderliter, longtime member and new chairman of the Sun City Center-based Mary Petro Fund, was there to watch how the mission operates.

“I’ve only been in charge [of the Mary Petro Fund] since David O’Dell left Feb. 1,” Hinderliter said. “But I’ve worked with the fund a long time. With the help of our monetary advisor, Rick Rios, we find and fund worthy projects for people in Sun City Center in need.”

Hinderliter explained that Petro had lived very frugally, and people were surprised that when she died she left $2 million dollars to the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay to be used in the Sun City Center branch that operates under the umbrella of that organization. She said it must be used to help Sun City Center’s needy.

Though many think all the people in Sun City Center are well off, county figures show there are many in the 55-and-up community who retired on pensions 25 or 30 years ago that do not provide for their needs today.

“We’ve been helping Sun City Center residents with food and medicine, just like Mary wanted,” Hinderliter said. “But she left the money for the fund to be in in perpetuity. In other words, we can’t use the $2 million, just the interest from it. So when the stock market took a dive, interest rates went down, and we had to cut back a lot.”

Mission Smiles already receives help from the Interfaith Council of SCC, Community Foundation of Tampa Bay’s South Shore Council and 100 Women Who Care Tampa Bay.

People may Google “Mission Smiles” Tampa area to find several websites and articles to find out more.

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