Houston Third Ward churches bring dental clinic to Emancipation Park
By Roy Maynard
Residents of Houston’s Third Ward lined up for the blessing of free dental care in May; the Texas Mission of Mercy dental clinic, brought to Emancipation Park by four area United Methodist Churches, served about 750 people who lacked the resources to see a dentist on their own.
The first patient, a student at the University of Houston who has no dental insurance, arrived at the park the night before—just for the opportunity to have about $2,000 of needed dental work done.
“It took us two years to bring this about, and if you could see the smiles and hear the stories, you’d know it was worth it,” said the Rev. Linda Davis of Boynton Chapel UMC. “It was a life-changing event, a life-saving event. It wasn’t a cosmetic event; it was life-saving. We know that not having good dental care leads to other health problems.”
The churches—Boynton Chapel United Methodist Church, Trinity East United Methodist Church, Trinity United Methodist Church, and Riverside United Methodist Church raised approximately $65,000 to bring 80 volunteer dentists and 600 dental professionals to the park.
In all, 744 patients were provided with no-charge care that would have cost them a total of $527,381, with an average cost per patient of more than $700. Most of the procedures were basis pain-relieving and preventive measures, such as cleanings, extractions and fillings. But the Texas Mission of Mercy clinic also provided a number of partial dentures.
“One lady has not been to the dentist in 20 years,” Davis said. “Another lady came up to the Rev. (Marilyn) White and I, crying, thanking us. ‘I no longer look like a monster,’ she said. They leveled her teeth, given her a partial; she was excited. So were we.”
The immensity of the need was clear from the turnout, Davis said.
“On Saturday (the second day of the two-day event), I got there at 4 a.m., there were already 3,500 people there,” she said. “We can only do 500 a day, so we had to turn many away.”
That’s why the four churches are already working on bringing back the event.
“We’re ready to submit our application,” Davis said. “We’d like to have a 60-chair event, instead of 40 chairs. And we’d like to have it someplace bigger, maybe the NRG Center.”
The list of sponsors that made May’s event happen is extensive. In addition to the churches, the groups and agencies that worked together to bring the event to Emancipation Park include the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Delta Dental, the Kinder Foundation, Amerigroup, the Texas Dental Association, San Jose Clinic, Alsco, the Emancipation Economic Development Council, Frost, the NHP Foundation, Lone Star Circle of Care, Walmart, Pima Medical Institute, Emancipation Park Conservancy and the Northern Third Ward Neighborhood Implementation Project.
They also had help from the offices of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston.
“And we couldn’t have done it without our congregations,” Rev. Davis said. “There’s the dental side—the dental professionals—and we lined those up. But there’s also the community side—the people we needed for parking and hospitality and a kid’s zone—and we had to line those up, too. It took many, many leaders and volunteers to make this work.”