Success stories seem to be few and far between in the time of COVID, but St. John Medical Outreach’s year-old food program — delivering food to those in need — appears to be one of them.
Dr. Dale Clark, founder of St. John (formerly known as the Mom & Me Mobile Medical Clinic), told the Enumclaw Rotary that his team of volunteers serve around 7,000 families in 13 communities by picking up food from food banks or leftover groceries from big box stores and driving it to their doors six days a week.
“If you need food, we’ll get food to you,” Clark told the Rotary during its Dec. 10 meeting.
Here’s a little background on the nonprofit.
The Mom & Me Mobile Clinic started in 2012 as a way for people in King and Pierce County to receive free medical care. Its clientele base grew so much over the years that the clinic changed its name to St. John Medical Outreach in November 2019.
Then the pandemic hit in January 2020, and St. John Medical Outreach was no longer able to continue providing medical care to its patients, as the state imposed stringent cleaning requirements that St. John couldn’t feasibly keep up with.
But that doesn’t mean the nonprofit stopped all its services — in fact, with the clinic closed, Clark, SJMO’s board of directors, and numerous volunteers quickly shifted gears, picking up its effort to make sure families in need were fed and starting a new initiative to provide healthcare workers with hand-sewn cloth masks and 3D-printed face shields.
By June 2020, St. John Medical Outreach donated more than 5,000 visors, masks, gloves, and “ear savers” — plastic straps that went behind the ears to prevent chafing from masks — to various hospitals, doctors offices, nursing homes, and senior living facilities in King and Pierce County.
At the same time, the nonprofit had delivered more than 60,000 pounds of food to more than 500 families, according to Olivier Taupin, a local entrepreneur and volunteer with St. John.
As the need for personal protective equipment waned, more energy was directed to making sure families didn’t go hungry.
At first, the only people really working the food program was Clark and Phil Thomas, another volunteer.
“We went to Mineral, we went to Eatonville, we went all over Enumclaw,” Thomas said in a Dec. 11 interview. “We were doing this from 5:30 in the morning to 7:30, 8 o’clock at night. It was wearing. It was hard.”
To say it was difficult work is an understatement — neither Clark or Thomas are spring chickens, and both have gone through cancer treatments (Clark himself boasts having survived cancer three times, and Thomas recently stopped his chemo treatment). They also had little equipment to work with — just one moving truck with the Mom & Me logo; everything had to be loaded and unloaded by hand, sans pallets.
Now volunteers, called “ambassadors”, do most of the heavy lifting (with the help of a few new trucks and a forklift) and drive the food to homes, which Clark said is one of the most important features of this program.
“First of all, children are out of school, and most of them don’t have daycare,” he said, adding that it’s difficult for parents to get away in order to drive to a traditional food bank to pick up their meals for the week. Also, “so many people are without work, they don’t have the gas money to put in their car.”
Clark said that his program is also different from food banks in the way that there is no government oversight — clients don’t need to be from a particular area or give St. John Medical Outreach any information in order to receive services.
“People don’t want to give their information, because they’re embarrassed,” Clark said. “They worked hard all their lives, and all of a sudden, people are losing their houses and cars and everything else right now.”
Thomas said this especially helps non-citizens in the area feel safe about asking for help.
If you’re in need of St. John’s services, or if you’re looking to volunteer, it’s easy to get a hold of the nonprofit — head to https://stjohnmedical.org/contact/ in order to email Clark and his team, or join the food program Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/foodprogramsjmo.