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Virginia Mormons provide food for patients, dentists

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ROANOKE, Va. – When the Virginia Dental Health Foundation sponsored the Missions of Mercy (MOM) free dental clinic to go to the Roanoke Civic Center, the many volunteers and dental professionals needed for the undertaking were organized.

The volunteers included 106 dentists, 66 dental hygienists, 92 dental assistants, 68 dental students, 57 dental hygiene students, 24 pre-dental students, and 27 dental support staff. The two-day event on March 26 and 27, which served 1,029 poor and indigent dental patients at an estimated cost of $1.1 million, provided cleanings, extractions, surgery, and other services free of charge.

Officials said 55 percent of those served were living below the poverty level, 49 percent were unemployed, and 90 percent had no regular dental care.

One problem that arose was feeding the large number of attendees. After requests were issued to a number of churches and other charitable organizations to sponsor lunches for the there very few positive responses. The Council of Community Services, one of the local sponsors for the event, was at a loss as to what to do.

When Linda Arrington, the council's office manager, heard of their plight, she contacted the Roanoke Virginia Stake and obtained approval for the local wards to take on the task of feeding the attendees.

Alison Jorgensen, the council's director of Volunteer Services said, "Every time Linda made a phone call we had another 100 sandwiches."

As a result, the Roanoke Valley wards of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including the Back Creek, Salem, Cave Spring, Vinton, Roanoke 1st and Roanoke 3rd wards, quickly organized to support their community. LDS families, young single adults, youths, Boy Scouts and Relief Society sisters assembled more than 1,400 sandwich lunches and 200 ham biscuits and delivered them on time.

Dental patients had started lining up at 11:30 p.m. the night before the event. Because some of the attendees had been there all night, the lunches were gratefully consumed.

When lunches for the dentists, to be provided by another organization, did not arrive as expected, it was found that because the Mormon wards had dramatically exceeded their promised commitment of sandwiches, there were enough to feed the dentists and some volunteers as well.

Jorgensen said, "The Saints really saved the day for us. We do not know what we would have done without you."

Arrington noted that the local volunteer community represented by Volunteer Roanoke Valley has had nothing but praise for the response from the LDS wards and has publicized the church's participation in all of the MOM marketing materials. "The LDS Churches of the Roanoke Valley" was printed on the T-shirts honoring all of the volunteers who participated.

Paul Rucker is public affairs director of the Roanoke Virginia Stake.