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Walnut Street Community Health Center receives some love from annual Sweetheart Gala

February 09, 2013|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI | alnotarianni@aol.com

Valentine’s chocolates might not seem the obvious way to promote dental health.

But a little bit of chocolate, some rosebuds and an all-out Valentine’s celebration have proven to be a lucrative fundraiser for the Walnut Street Community Health Center.

The center celebrated its fourth annual Sweetheart Gala on Saturday night at Fountain Head Country Club, with proceeds to benefit the child and adult patients of the center’s dental practice.

Kim Murdaugh, executive director of the center, said roughly 7,800 patients receive care though its family, mental health and dental practices. About one-third of those are not insured.

“We see the economy not really improving and tend to think a lot about people who may not have medical insurance. But even more might not have dental, and often, dental can be very expensive,” she said.

Nearly 2,500 children and adults received dental care through Walnut Street during the past year either at the clinic office or through its Healthy Smiles in Motion mobile dental unit, Murdaugh said. The mobile unit visits schools, Head Start sites and the Tri-State Community Health Center in Hancock.

Lyn Carter, family practice office manager, helped organize the gala.

“It’s a nice evening, especially to come out for Valentine’s Day, to take your sweetheart,” she said. “It’s an excellent meal and the atmosphere is beautiful.”

Dinner was served on tables decorated in red and white. Men received chocolate bars as favors and women took home red rose buds in vases. Attendees bid on silent auction items, danced to the tunes of a DJ and purchased cocktails called Cupid Punch, with a portion of proceeds going to the clinic. Tickets cost $60 per person. Murdaugh said 90 people attended and she hoped to raise $15,000 through the event.

Bonita Cuff, who works in the clinic’s mental health department, said it was “a very fun, elegant evening.”

Becky Knox, an executive assistant at the clinic, attended for the first time.

“I think it’s exciting to have an event like this in the community recognizing the health center and the good work that we do,” she said.

Ilaya Rajagopal, the clinic’s dental director and pediatric dentist, addressed the importance of oral health. He spoke of an instance several years ago in which a young Maryland boy had an untreated dental abscess that led to meningitis and his death.

“Oral health is important,” he said.

Rajagopal said the center recently treated a child with leukemia who required dental restorations before he could receive chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. It also provided treatment to an 18-month-old who needed multiple restorations.

Such situations are not uncommon, Rajagopal said, and can impede a child’s eating, speech and overall development.

Earl Stoner, president of the clinic’s board of directors, said services provided by Walnut Street are “vitally important,” in part because patients receive treatment not only from a clinical, but from an educational perspective.

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