By Ed Brock
Having eaten their fill of tomato sandwiches, a trio of guests ambled cheerily down the driveway at Jim Wood's Forest Park home.
Jack Smith of Jonesboro and Clyde and Pat Cooper of Zebulon were quick to call this year's Tomato Sandwich Party to benefit the Good Shepherd Clinic in Morrow a success.
"I think it's a wonderful cause," said Smith whose wife volunteers at the clinic where the county's uninsured go for medical care. "They're helping no telling how many people."
The sandwiches were "absolutely great" said Clyde Cooper.
"I don't see how (Wood) does it," Pat Cooper said. "It is very well organized."
The party was held Saturday and, while it was only the second year for the event to benefit the Good Shepherd clinic, Wood, a former Georgia legislator and newspaper publisher, has hosted many such events. Saturday's event was just as popular as in the past, with some 200 people crowding into Wood's yard and house, chatting, politicking and listening to music from the "Jonesmen" gospel quartet from Jones Memorial United Methodist Church in Lake City.
"We've had a good crowd," Wood said Saturday.
Last year the party raised $15,000 and this year's goal was $18,000, money the clinic's sponsors hope will eventually allow them to expand their hours of operation to five days a week and to hire a part-time doctor. Currently Dr. Thomas Kelley volunteers his time at the clinic that is only open on Mondays, meaning it must turn away about 100 people a week.
With an hour to go in the party, the contributors met the $18,000 goal, said Good Shepherd board member L.C. Thomas.
"The Good Shepherd Clinic belongs to the community. We thank the community for supporting us," Thomas said.
The Rev. Stephen Cook with the First Baptist Church of Morrow, a sponsor of the clinic, was also pleased with the success of the event.
"This is one of many ways we're continuing to try to reach the community and make a positive impact," Cook said.
The Tomato Sandwich Party started out as a political fundraiser, and Saturday there was no shortage of candidates in the upcoming primaries in attendance at the party, donating to the cause and campaigning.
"As usual it's a great crowd of good people," said Clayton County Sheriff Stanley Tuggle.
Tuggle is being challenged by Georgia state representative and Clayton County Police Detective Victor Hill, police accident Investigator Joe Mack Eckler and used car salesman Cliff Hall.
"The people you see at this are the people who really get out and vote and support the community," Tuggle said.
Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield and her opponent, attorney Robert Mack, attended the party.
"When I ran the first time in 1992 I was here," Benefield said, adding that at that time the party was to benefit Clayton Center Mental Health.
Mack, attending the party for the first time, said he "couldn't think of a better place to be."
"This is a worthy cause to the extreme," Mack said. "It's sad when you see these volunteers have to tell people that they don't have the resources to help them."
Clayton County Commission candidate Wole Ralph was also a first time attendee.
"My wife and I came over and had a couple of great sandwiches," Ralph said.
Ralph will face Zannie "Tiger" Billingslea, Charles Davis, Cedric McCrary and Ronald Ringer on July 20 to vie for the District 3 seat on the commission.
Clayton County Solicitor General Keith Martin, who is being challenged by attorney Leslie Miller Terry, said he first attended the Tomato Sandwich Party in 1988.
"This shows that people do care," Martin said.
The clinic, located on Murphy Drive behind the First Baptist Church, opened in 2000. It 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 at the party are needed for general operating expenses, primarily medicine.
The guests of honor this year were Bruce Lucia, president of the Atlanta Division for Kroger grocery stores and Randy Waters, zone manager for Kroger, Thomas said.
Also, on Sept. 18 the clinic will hold its inaugural family bicycle ride fundraiser. For more information on that call the clinic at (770) 968-1310.