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Convoy of Hope offers free services to thousands

September 24, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT | marieg@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown Hip Hop artist Spence performed Saturday for the huge crowd gathered at Convoy of Hope at the Hagerstown Fairgrounds Park.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

As a periodontist, Dr. Rebecca Wagner Bye knows the repercussions of dental neglect.

She has had to counter the effects of gingivitis among teenagers and the lack of flossing among adults.

But Saturday, she saw people too busy finding ways to put food on the table to even worry about oral hygiene.

For the past four years, Bye has had a rare window on the toll poverty — and sometimes fear — plays on a person's mouth.

She has seen individuals suffering from infections, decay, burning gums and ulcers who rely on aspirin to ease their pain.

Others have teeth that are blackened and crooked.

Many have not been to a dentist in decades.

It is the desperate need for dental attention that keeps her coming back each year to volunteer her time and services to thousands of people attending the Convoy of Hope at Fairgrounds Park in Hagerstown.

At this year's event, Bye was the team leader for an army of area dentists and hygienists who filled a tent providing free care to people with oral-health issues.

"We expect to see at least 2,000 people today," Bye said. "Many of them have been living with discomfort for a long time."

The two most common areas of concern, she noted, were periodontal disease and dental decay.

Like a giant MASH unit, tents set up across the park grounds provided a variety of free services through Convoy of Hope, a nonprofit organization that mobilizes churches and groups to help make a difference in their communities.

"The purpose is to bring hope into the lives of people who don't have any," said Curt Snyder, pastor of Life House Bethel and coordinator of the local Convoy of Hope.

"It's also a way to unify the community to help its own," he said.

Snyder said more than 60 churches and about 100 organizations, businesses and sponsors came together to make Saturday's event possible.

"It's all local, all volunteer," he said. "We had about 1,700 people lending a hand this year."

Snyder estimated that about 5,000 people attended Saturday's Convoy of Hope.

"The first year, about 2,300 people showed up," he said. "Each year since, the numbers have increased. Part of it is being able to get the word out. But also, there is a greater need."

Snyder said the Washington County poverty statistic is about 10 percent higher than the national average.

"There are some things that people will neglect because they have to put their money elsewhere," he said. "This is a way of lending a helping hand."

Bye said many of the people she saw in the dental and oral cancer screenings had avoided the dentist for a number of reasons.

"Some have a fear of dentists," she said. "But most don't have the money and don't know the resources available to them in the community."

Bye said appointments were being set up for those individuals who needed immediate attention. Personnel also were making patients aware of the options they had for local dental care.

Bonnie Bishop, who was co-coordinator of the community services tent, said there had been a consistently long line of people snaking their way through the aisles, where at least 35 organizations had set up tables.

"To me, this tent is for those who, if they have no other place to turn to, can turn here," she said. "There is someone here who can help with just about any need you can think of — from help with your utility bills to finding a job."

Last year, she said, one individual came to the tent with no place to live.

"At the end of the day, they had a roof over their head," she said. "Convoy is an important event. But a lot of emotion comes with it."

Nikki Wright of Hagerstown said her reason for attending Convoy of Hope was twofold.

Accompanied by her three children, she wanted to expose them to what life is like for many people, she said.

"Not everybody has what they have," she said. "People might get these services once a year and that's it. Thinking about that, I almost started crying."

"I also wanted to show them how people, through volunteering, can give back to their community," she said.

Currently, Wright said, she is on both sides of the fence.

"I have epilepsy and am not able to work at this time. Plus, my husband recently broke his foot," she said. "So I understand trying to make ends meet."

In addition to medical and community services, visitors to Saturday's event received a hot meal and every adult walked away with two bags of groceries, Snyder said.

People could also get a haircut, free shoes and a family portrait.

"It's the sort of things that some people just can't afford anymore," Snyder said. "The money is needed elsewhere."

When she moved to Hagerstown four years ago, Diana Flannery said she and her children were struggling to get by.

So they attended Convoy of Hope.

Flannery was back this year, but in a different capacity.

Now a licensed hairstylist, she was volunteering her time to cut hair.

"The feeling was awesome," she said. "I can't tell you how rewarding it was. It was a great way of giving back and something I definitely plan on doing again."

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