I was looking forward to today’s dRTB Facebook Live broadcast with our guest, St. Petersburg Free Clinic CEO Jennifer Yeagley, but — for reasons you can probably guess — we decided to conduct our interview by phone instead.
My main question: How can people help Free Clinic clients and staff contend with the COVID-19 crisis?
Yeagley’s answer: Donate — and that means donate dollars, not food.
The Free Clinic is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year as a vital resource for St. Pete’s neediest citizens. As its name suggests, its services include health care — the Free Clinic Health Center was established in 1970 and helps adults aged 18-64 without private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid and who do not qualify for county-subsidized health care — and there’s now a dental clinic as well.
But there’s so much more, such as shelter (three separate residences for homeless men, women and children) and emergency assistance (We Help Services). And food: The Clinic is the #1 emergency food distributor in Pinellas County. Its Food Bank distributes food free of charge to over 65 partner agencies, and it also runs programs like Pack-A-Sack, which bridges the weekend food gap for kids when school’s out.
Because of the Clinic’s standing as a food resource, you might assume that it would be in need of edible items, but that’s not the case. “We can purchase bulk foods with pennies on the dollar,” says Yeagley, so your dollar will go a lot further toward feeding the hungry than your own food donation could.
Plus, the COVID-19 crisis is still in such an early stage that it’s hard to know what new problems may crop up.
“We’re going to see cascading needs on the part of the community we serve,” says Yeagley. “What do we need on hand for worst-case scenarios?”
Already, the Clinic is upping its sanitation procedures in all its facilities and planning ways to communicate information about COVID-19 and ways to stay healthy at home. “In every area of our operation we’re finding we need to be very flexible and very responsive.”
And with more and more people being affected — such as those whose livelihoods depend on businesses that may wind up closing for an undetermined amount of time, leaving them in need of food, healthcare and even shelter — the Free Clinic’s services may be more in demand than ever.
The Free Clinic had been planning a big celebration next month: its 50th Anniversary Gala, a major fundraiser and a chance for Yeagley, who just started as CEO at the end of February, to preside over her first big SPFC event. That party, like so many other big gatherings, has been postponed, but the Clinic is offering its supporters a chance to participate in an online event on the date originally scheduled for the gala: April 4. Follow the Clinic at its Facebook page @stpetefreeclinic to learn more.
And donate: There’s an orange DONATE button in the top right corner of every page on the Clinic’s website, stpetersburgfreeclinic.org, and you can designate your donation for “Agency & Community Needs Related to COV-19” if you wish.
Most important is this:
“If you need help,” says Yeagley, “we’re here.”
Full Disclosure: I’m an SPFC board member.