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Photo, above left: Pharmacists take inventory in preparation to help doctors and nurses treat up to two dozen walk-in patients. Right: Nurses from several area churches come straight from work to tend to patients at the Free Clinic. Below, Dr. Billy Burk is one of the clinic physicians. (Photos courtesy of Free Clinic of Rome, Ga.) 

Rome, Ga. Volunteers attack homelessness on two fronts

By Major Frank Duracher

Southern Spirit staff

Two distinct volunteer groups have partnered with The Salvation Army in Rome, Ga., in an ongoing effort to provide comfort and sustenance to the homeless population of Floyd County.

Both the foot-washing ministry and the Free Clinic of Rome alternate services on Monday evenings, providing needed services to walk-ins and those staying at the Army's emergency shelter. Most of the guests are men, but women and children come to be fed and cared for by caring volunteers of both groups.

Elizabeth Wallace, a former nurse, read an Atlanta newspaper article about a foot clinic ministry and proposed the idea to her fellow congregation members at the First United Methodist Church of Rome. A partnership with The Salvation Army soon formed and is now in its fifth year of operation.

Wallace coordinates a group of about 20 volunteers who come to the Army's shelter on the first and third Mondays of the month. They help serve that evening's hot meal prepared by Army staff members and use the time to speak to the homeless guests while they eat.

"This gives us a chance to get to know more about them, and some we've gotten to know quite well," Wallace said. "We invite them to come to have their feet washed, and many do come to our five stations that provide privacy."

Students from Berry College belonging to HHOPE (Hunger & Homelessness Outreach Programs and Education) are very involved in the foot-washing ministry, as are volunteers from other churches throughout Rome.

"We give each person a pair of shoes, and a bag containing new socks and toiletries," Wallace said.


Photos, left (top): Gift bags containing new socks and hygiene products are decorated and filled by children in the Rome area. Middle: The 20 volunteers of the foot-washing ministry say that they wash the feet of guests as if they were performing the act for Jesus. Bottom: Volunteers prepare to serve hot meals to guests of the foot-washing ministry. 

Not long after the foot-washing ministry began, a group of doctors formed the Free Clinic of Rome, Inc., a second partnership with The Salvation Army focusing on immediate medical care for the homeless. The group includes physicians, nurses, pharmacists, lay volunteers and a social worker provided by the State of Georgia.

Steven Pruett, M.D., and a board of directors coordinate the service which operates on the second and fourth Mondays of the month. Most medical volunteers are members of local churches, including First Methodist, First Presbyterian and St. Mary's Catholic.

The Free Clinic is a well-organized structure, with every component donated by the volunteers and their supporters. Manpower, equipment, supplies and prescription drugs are all provided by donation, with no line item cost at all to the Army.

The walk-in clinic provides the free service to patients, many of which are referred by the local hospital and the family practice clinic. Medical records are stringently kept on each patient, with confidentiality and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accounting Act) rules faithfully observed. The group's mission is to serve those who have no access to medical care or insurance.

"We see anywhere from four to 24 people on a given Monday night," Pruett said. "Some extreme cases involve hypertension and high blood sugar, which may involve EMS transportation to the hospital."

Most important, Pruett insists, is that each patient is treated with the utmost respect.

A free dental clinic has grown from this program, conducted by Dr. Randy Green with seven other dentists, sponsored by the Rome/Floyd County Dental Society and the Northwest Regional Health Department. Dr. Charles Roszel provides a specially-equipped van complete with two dental chairs and x-ray equipment. The dental team performs extractions only.

The foot-washing ministry and the clinic are partnerships with The Salvation Army that have proven to be valuable assets to the Rome community, as well as providing much-needed care from two fronts for the homeless.

"It is incredible for us to witness the good that is being done here every Monday night," said Captain Eileen Farrell, Rome corps officer. Both projects, she said, help fulfill the Lord's command to minister to people who need them most.



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