Wineka column: Mammoth Salisbury dental clinic in late September could serve up to 1,000 people
SALISBURY — Big events often spring from lunches over vegetarian taco salads and chimichangas.
For three years, Dr. Jim C. Dunkin and one of his flock, dentist Dr. David Mayberry, have been meeting regularly at the El Patron Mexican restaurant to work out details for a free, two-day Missions of Mercy dental clinic in Salisbury.
The clinic will take place Sept. 27 and 28 at Catawba College’s Goodman Gymnasium.
This is a big deal, to put it bluntly — and worthy of the three years of discussion. Picture 800 to 1,000 patients and 60 or so dental stations covering the college gym floor.
Imagine hundreds of people waiting in line for help. Think of all the volunteers — professional and otherwise — needed to handle this kind of operation.
Dunkin, pastor of First Presbyterian Church and local coordinator for the event, keeps a notebook’s worth of planning documents he has accumulated. He has only his daughter to blame.
About four years ago, Christina Dunkin was finishing her undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and knew she had been accepted into the dental school at Virginia Commonwealth University.
As a pre-dental undergraduate at UNCW, she had participated in three Missions of Mercy clinics, part of the N.C. Dental Society’s outreach program since 2003.
Christina, now in her final year of dental school, told her father there was no reason Salisbury couldn’t be host for one of the Missions of Mercy clinics. So the seed was planted.
“This mission calls for the community to come together and make this happen,” Jim Dunkin says.
Dunkin contacted Mayberry, who attended dental school with Dr. Bill Blaylock, director of the Missions of Mercy clinics for the N.C. Dental Society.
Mayberry and Dunkin set a date for their first lunch, and the madness began. “I kind of got hooked,” Mayberry says.
As time went on and the months of casual discussion became serious, Dunkin accused Mayberry of getting him in over his head. Mayberry, the event’s dental coordinator, lodged the same complaint.
“So we’re both in over our head,” Dunkin says.
Since their planning began, Mayberry, a regular volunteer dentist for the Community Care Clinic, has participated in three different Missions of Mercy clinics and fell in love with the program.
The free dental clinics across the state already have served more than 46,000 people, providing more than $20 million in dental care.
Mayberry worked whole days at two clinics in Greensboro and one at a small church in New London. He says some of the cases and how he was able to help brought tears to both him and his patients.
“When you ask if it’s rewarding — yeah,” Mayberry says, hinting that it’s really difficult to put into words.
Dunkin has been taken aback by the enthusiasm shown by the other coordinators he has recruited. He has never been greeted by any hesitation.
Some of the others involved include fund-raising coordinators Krista Woolly, executive director of the Community Care Clinic, and Kyna Foster, executive director of Rowan Helping Ministries.
The community must raise $48,000 to be successful, and solicitations and grant-writing are well under way.
Vivian Ray, director of Livingstone College’s Programs in Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts, will serve as food coordinator for all the volunteers over the two days.
Those volunteers take in dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, laboratory technicians and dental students such as Christina Dunkin.
Jim Dunkin says 400 general volunteers also will be needed, and a group of inner city churches are combining to provide those people. They include First Presbyterian, Soldiers Memorial, First Baptist, First Methodist, St. John’s Lutheran Church, St. Luke’s Episcopal, First United Church of Christ and the Refuge.
Here’s just an idea of the kind of jobs volunteers will be doing: directing traffic, unloading trucks, setting up the clinic, registering patients, greeting patients, translating, screening health histories, serving as triage scribes, escorting patients, running supplies to treatment stations, disposing trash, serving food, tearing down the clinic and loading supply trucks.
The Catawba College staff will serve as facility coordinators.
“Catawba has been just amazing,” Mayberry says. Blaylock had told him the clinic would require a facility at least the size of three basketball courts.
Mayberry spent a Sunday looking around the city for something that fit the bill until he came to Goodman Gym. He spoke the next day to Tom Childress, senior vice president for the school.
“He said, ‘This is a no-brainer for us. This is something we have to do.’”
Members of the Old North State Dental Society also will be major participants at the Salisbury clinic.
Blaylock, who lives in the Cary area, already has visited Salisbury four different times. One of those visits included a talk last month to the Rowan Dental Society, and he is returning May 3 to meet with Dunkin, Mayberry and all their coordinators.
“I’ve told Bill, every time I’ve seen him, that we’re rookies,” Mayberry says.
The clinic will open its doors at 6 a.m. Friday, Sept. 27, when the screening starts, and treatment will begin by 7 a.m. X-rays are taken of every patient, and the triage dentist helps in determining what work the dentists will try to accomplish with each person.
Only adults 18 and older are served by the clinics. Mayberry says the dentists try to accomplish one major thing with each patient. It might be the filling of several cavities, the extraction of two to three teeth or maybe just a thorough cleaning.
The results are sometimes dramatic and life-changing, Mayberry says.
The Community Care Clinic can provide follow-up visits for local patients if that’s needed, Mayberry adds. The Community Care Clinic routinely has a waiting list for people seeking dental treatment.
The special two-day clinic is meant to serve people at or below the 200 percent poverty rate.
Dunkin and Mayberry said having enough patients is never a problem. In fact, people sometimes camp out overnight and wait in line for several hours to see a dentist.
Both patients and volunteer dental professionals often travel considerable distances to reach a clinic.
The Salisbury clinic will wind up its first day, a Friday, around 5 p.m., then go to about 3 or 3:30 p.m. on the Saturday before shutting down.
Many of patients still waiting in line on the first day will be given wrist bands to wear on Saturday so they are guaranteed being served that day.
“This offers the community of Salisbury (a chance) to come together in a very intense way to meet a very intense need that is so many times overlooked,” Dunkin says. “... They’ve told us that once you do one, you’ll want to do it again.”
For a moment, Dunkin and Mayberry steal a glance at each other at the lunch table.
Could be they’re looking at a lot more taco salads in the future.
For more information on the clinic, making a donation or volunteering for it, visit the N.C. Missions of Mercy website at www.ncdental.org/NCMOM, or email Dunkin at email@example.com. For those making donations online, be sure to designate the donation for the Salisbury clinic Sept. 27-28. Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.