MANKATO — I was happy to assure the last caller to the newsroom on Friday that the online story he’d read was not a hoax. Free dental care was being offered in Mankato, and if he could get there on time for Saturday’s clinic, it would be available to him, too.
My good feelings couldn’t come close to matching the joy I saw reflected earlier that day in the smiles of people who were served by the Minnesota Dental Foundation’s Mission of Mercy at Verizon Wireless Center.
When I volunteered at the event for a short time Friday, I was in a spot on the finish line for people who attended. Granted, most of the smiles given to me were lopsided — their owners’ had not yet recovered from being numbed for treatment.
One of my duties was to hand out packages containing toothbrushes, paste and floss as patients left the civic center arena. Several participants with gauze-filled mouths found it important to express gratitude to me for all the volunteers — so they struggled to get out mumbly versions of “thank you.”
We provided pens and papers to anyone who wanted to write down thoughts about their clinic experiences. I read a few while I sorted through the notes at the end of my shift, and tears came to my eyes more than once.
“This was the happiest day in the past 32 years for me,” one person had jotted down.
Not a bad day for me, either. Again, just as every other volunteer experience has proved, I got more out of it than I gave. Talk about the worries in my world being shrunk down to proper size after being compared to those of the clinic attendees.
I have dental insurance through the job. I am responsible for co-payments, but I do have an income. At my checkup last month, the doc told me I have no cavities.
Sometimes I need a reminder.
During my two-hour shift, I met dozens of other MOM volunteers. Their reasons for service varied.
A junior botany major came back to Mankato early after reading about the event on Bethany Lutheran College’s website. Josh, who reported for duty at 4:30 a.m. Friday, was enjoying the experience of escorting people through the maze of clinic stations.
Several School Sisters of Notre Dame came “down the hill” to help out. I had lunch with one member in the volunteer break area. She told me of the School Sisters’ mission to help others in need.
After the sister left to look for opportunities to serve, a dentist volunteer asked if he could join me. Steve Means is a Gustavus Adolphus College grad who has a private practice in Minneapolis and serves on the Minnesota Dental Association. He told me his reason for participating was not political, it was all about people.
Dr. Means was taking a breather after helping a young woman whose face described her hard life. Her bad front teeth were replaced with a partial denture, and she really has a beautiful smile, he said.
During our chat, we were joined by fellow dentist volunteer, Brent Martin, and his wife, Diane, who had trained me in for my volunteer duties.
Diane formerly worked at a shelter for homeless teenage girls. Lending a hand this weekend just felt natural to her.
The Martins already are making plans for the next Minnesota MOM event in Bemidji — her hometown — June 14 and 15.
I’m strongly considering rejoining her there next summer. My reasons are a bit selfish.
To paraphrase the 80-year-plus man who gave me a big hug as he left the clinic: This experience has made me feel 20 years younger.
Contact Edie Schmierbach at 344-6380 or email@example.com.