By PHYLLIS HODGES
In keeping with its mission — Feeding the Mind, Spirit and Body of the farmworking community and our neighbors in need — the Beth-El Farmworkers Ministry recently opened a free dental clinic in its Wimauma complex. For Executive Director Reverend Kathleen Dain, the clinic is a dream come true. It is the first health care component to be added to its hunger relief, education and spiritual growth programs.
After visiting a Judeo-Christian dental clinic in
Tampa a few years ago, Dain started planning. She is quick to say that converting some of Beth-El’s unused modulars into a viable dental clinic didn’t happen overnight. She grimaces when looking back on the 18 months just to get county approval.
The clinic is open to anybody who qualifies, following guidelines based on income, number of immediate family members and the lack of insurance. It is open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Two of the Saturdays are for cleanings; the other two are for basic dental services, such as extractions.
Dain said opening day was hectic when more showed up seeking treatment than they could possibly handle. The first person had arrived at 1 a.m. and camped on the clinic’s doorstep to ensure a place. Dain says patients still arrive early — some as early as 5 a.m. —and the waiting room fills quickly every Saturday. But now they have smoothed out the registration process, and it helps that people know which services are being offered on which Saturday. They also have a better understanding of qualifications for treatment.
“The donations and volunteers from numerous dentists and organizations are making this possible. The patients are so grateful. They are always smiling and usually give me a thumbs-up,” said Dain.
Financial support in the form of grants is generally in the $5,000 to $20,000 range, the most recent being a $10,000 grant from the Interfaith Social Action Council.
Volunteer health professionals treat about 20 patients each Saturday. Some volunteers are bilingual and serve as translators when needed. On cleaning Saturday, five hygienists alternate among the three rooms and a dentist is on hand for examinations. On the other two Saturdays, three dentists are on hand. If emergency follow-up treatment is needed, some of the dentists will have patients come to their office. They hope to find an oral surgeon soon.
“When people learn about the clinic, they want to be involved,” says Randy Talaski, one of the volunteers who come from as far away as Winter Haven to help. Talaski is a former dental tech who lives nearby in Riverview. He played a leading role in the clinic’s design and construction. It is also through the relationships he maintains in the industry that Beth-El secures much of its donated equipment, supplies and services. Much of it comes from the Henry Schein Company, a leading global distributor of dental supplies, equipment and pharmaceuticals, and Talaski’s former employer. Based in New York (with a Tampa office), the company’s support of Beth-El is certainly in keeping with its reputation within the industry for social responsibility.
To learn more about the services available at Beth-El, visit its website at www.beth-el.org, and don’t miss viewing the heart-warming video describing the operation. To talk to Dain about the many volunteer opportunities there, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 813-633-1548 ext. 223.