“I can’t stress enough that the people who come here are not deadbeats,” Beverly Kegley said.
by Carrie C. Causey
LOUISBURG — Tamales and handcuffs are two items volunteers are using to protect the Franklin County Volunteers in Medicine free clinic, its prescription program and its food pantry.
Saturday, patients who primarily benefit from the pantry held a fundraiser to raise money for the groceries. They organized a yard sale and sold fish, chicken and tamale plates. While the endeavor didn’t rake in lots of needed funds, it did raise awareness in the community. It also brought in 10 new volunteers.
“The event was extremely successful as it showed so much support for the food pantry from the folks that use it,” said Directory Beverly Kegley.
After one couple didn’t find anything they particularly wanted, they happily handed over a donation, but politely declined to offer the volunteers their names. Volunteers responded with hugs and well-wishes.
Patients are able to receive food from the pantry, plus groceries are taken to churches and farms to serve those in need in the Hispanic population. There are no requirements to participate and the pantry serves nearly 500 people.
“People don’t get food from food banks if they don’t need to,” Kegley said. “It’s not that it’s not good food, but it takes a lot to walk in and leave with a box of food.”
Needed items include pop-top cans and things that don’t have to be heated, especially for some of the homeless population they serve, who have to put the items in their pockets to store them. Other items they hand out are sample size of toiletries, sunscreen and lip balm.
The food pantry receives help from churches, anonymous donors and United Way of Franklin County and want to keep being able to offer food for patrons.
“We were talking about closing it and one family (member) said, ‘We understand budget cuts. My husband lost his job and we are living on my disability,’” Kegley said. “I can’t stress enough that the people who come here are not deadbeats and would work if they could find a job or if they weren’t so sick and don’t have health insurance.”
Standing for the people
After Saturday’s volunteer efforts to spread awareness, Kegley took it to a new level Monday as one of the 120 people arrested during the Moral Monday protests at the state legislature.
“It was my right and privilege to go,” Kegley said.
It was also about showing the need for funding for the clinic, which added 913 new patients last year to bring their total to more than 2,500 active clinic users. They also help distribute over a million dollars-worth of needed prescription drugs, which could be cut in the upcoming budget.
“We’ve got to continue or people are going to die,” she said of the prescription program. “We are not talking about people not having what they want — people are going to die.”
Among the cuts she was protesting, while representing the Franklin County free clinic and those across the state, were the patient assistance program and the lack of Medicaid expansion.
“Free clinics are already stretched and we are going to have to stretch further to cover it all and we don’t know how much further we can stretch,” Kegley said.
Nor does she know what other options patients will have like Elizabeth Heaton of Louisburg who is a patient and a volunteer at the clinic.
Heaton didn’t have health insurance for several years because, at the time, she didn’t need it. She was younger and healthier. Now at 49 with high blood pressure, Heaton worries if she didn’t have the clinic she would be out of luck.
“It’s expensive and costs going to the doctor,” she said. “I get my $4 prescriptions at Walmart, but without a doctor I wouldn’t be able to get them.”
“If the funding is cut to free clinics, so many are impacted in a negative way and I can’t wrap my brain around it,” she said. “So many people get their medicines from the funding. They have to choose ‘Am I going to eat dinner, put gas in my car or buy medicine?’ Far too many have to make that choice.”
Kyrone Slaughter and his girlfriend Danielle Weed have also had to make some difficult choices.
At 26 years old, Slaughter has had a heart attack, been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and had surgery. He left his home in Atlanta and moved to Louisburg three months ago.
Because of his medical problems, he had to leave his well-paying job, his apartment and the life he once had. Weed does her best to work at her “minimum wage, dead-end job” to cover expenses, but it isn’t enough to pay for everything.
Slaughter was put in contact with the free clinic and told that he would be able to receive all of the medications he needed.
“Medicaid and the state weren’t able to help, it was all on our own dime,” he said of before finding the clinic.
When he heard Kegley had been arrested for protesting on behalf of patients like him, Slaughter said it brought him close to tears.
“They are not doing this for a paycheck or a new car,” he said of the volunteers. “They are doing this to help us. She doesn’t know me. She has never met me. She is doing things from the kindness of her heart.”
Slaughter said he hopes lawmakers take notice of how Volunteers in Medicine is making a difference and changing the lives of residents. He hopes they understand that anyone could lose everything too.
“This could happen to them and someone else could be holding the keys to cut funding to that person,” Slaughter said of legislators. “If it weren’t for [Volunteers in Medicine and the free clinic], I’m not sure if I’d be here telling my story.”