The volunteers who run the Good Shepherd Clinic in Spearfish have seen tears—most often an overflow of gratitude for a service that the people they support would otherwise not be able to afford. “It’s so rewarding,” says Chris Davis, a volunteer with the program.
The clinic is a ministry of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and provides free dental and health care to the uninsured. The clinic recently received a $20,000 grant from South Dakota Community Foundation, an infusion of funds that will support the program’s expanding immunization program and ongoing clinical expenses.
The clinic is open at the church each Monday night, serving about two dozen patients. More than 140 volunteers, including nurses, physicians, dentists, greeters, pastors, and administrative assistants are on the volunteer roster, with about 20 volunteers serving each week. The program opened its doors 10 years ago to serve a population that includes 15 to 20 percent of local residents living below the poverty line and without health insurance.
“There are times when they are making difficult decisions about whether to pay rent or buy food or figuring out how to stay healthy,” Chris says.
Since it started, Good Shepherd Clinic has served 5,100 patients. More than 400 people have had dental work, nearly 10,000 prescriptions have been written, and more than 200 people have received vaccinations. The program introduced a pilot program for vaccinations in 2017 and expanded it last year. “The impact is that we’re keeping people healthy and they are not passing things on to others in our community,” Chris says.
The partnership with the Community Foundation is a great opportunity to continue providing services, Chris adds, as Good Shepherd relies entirely on donations and grants. Every dollar goes back into the cost of operating the clinic. There are no paid staff members. Just the 2018 immunization budget projection was almost $31,000. “The funding is so critical,” she says. “Having the support of SDCF, local community members and a church that continues to open its doors is vital.”
Good Shepherd focuses on more than just meeting emergency needs. The clinic also offers a meal, pastoral support and help with paperwork if someone needs a referral or more extensive care than the clinic offers. If someone needs additional x-rays, a specialist or lab work, a qualified volunteer will help them apply for regional financial assistance. “It’s really about helping people with all of it,” she says. “We bring together the emotional, physical and financial pieces.”
Chris, who has volunteered at the clinic for about five years, says it’s overwhelming to think about how many lives have been touched through the program. The Community Foundation, she says, has helped them meet the need. “When you hear some of the stories from people, it is just amazing to hear some of their day-to-day struggles—and what they overcome,” she says. “It makes you thankful for what you have. It emphasizes how lucky we are to live in this area, and this state. It is really philanthropic.”