By Ed Brock

When Pam Aikens lost her job at an optical line company three years ago she lost her medical insurance as well.

But that didn't mean the 53-year-old Morrow woman who had been hurt on the job and later suffered a stroke, didn't still needed medical care.

"I didn't know where to go," Aikens said.

But Aikens' regular physician, Dr. Thomas Kelley, is also the medical director of the Good Shepherd Clinic in Morrow, an organization dedicated to providing free medical care for people who don't have medical insurance of any kind.

"After I got laid off he told me to go there, and now he's still my doctor," Aikens said.

But the clinic needs the public's help to continue its mission of caring for people like Aikens, Kelley said. To raise money and public awareness, former Georgia state legislator Jim Wood, a member of the clinic's board of directors, is renewing his traditional Tomato Sandwich Party to benefit the clinic.

The party will be at Wood's Forest Park home at 5676 Sequoia Drive from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday. A $10 donation is suggested but people can pay whatever they want, Wood said.

Wood and his wife Martha started holding the Tomato Sandwich Party in the mid-1970s as a political fundraiser. Guests have included former governors George Busbee and Zell Miller, former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Georgia, and current state Sen. Terrell Starr, D-Forest Park.

Clayton County Commission Chairman Crandle Bray will be the special guest for this Saturday's party.

It was 1993 when the Woods last hosted the party at their house, but they've had other TSPs at other locations and they hand out their sandwiches at every Taste of Clayton event at Stately Oaks in Jonesboro.

"I like the excitement it's generating with the volunteers at the Good Shepherd Clinic," Wood said.

Just the other day someone at the Rotary Club gave Wood an envelope full of money, Wood said.

"That's the kind of response we've been getting," Wood said.

But the party is not just a one-shot fundraiser, Kelley said.

It is intended to generate ongoing support for the clinic in the county's business community.

"About one third of our patients have jobs but their companies don't provide insurance and the patients don't make enough to buy an individual policy," Kelley said. "We feel like we're providing a service for (the business community). We're helping them by keeping their work force healthy."

The clinic, which has been in operation since 2000 and operates from a renovated house behind First Baptist Church of Morrow on Murphy Drive, also receives funding from the Clayton County Community Foundation, the Presbyterian Church of Greater Atlanta and local churches and civic clubs.

Most of the funds that are raised Saturday are needed for general operating expenses, primarily medicine.

Currently the clinic is only open one night a week but Kelley hopes to raise enough money to change that.

"Our goal is to be open during the daytime several days a week and to hire a part-time physician to cover that," Kelley said.

They also want to eventually move to a bigger building.

Everybody will get to make their own sandwich at Wood's party. Some people like to add onions, some like Miracle Whip more than mayonnaise.

"No two are alike," Wood said.

He likes just a tomato with lots of salt, mayonnaise and bread only.

"I'm a purist," Wood said.

Call (770) 960-8494 for more information and directions to the party.