By Joel Hall
An uncommon patient recently made its way to the examination table at the Good Shepherd Clinic in Morrow: A big, ripe, red tomato.
The clinic, which has operated in quarters set up in the parking lot of First Baptist Church of Morrow for nine years, serves the important function of providing uninsured Clayton County residents with primary health care - regardless of their ability to pay.
Charles Johnson, medical director of the clinic, carefully examined the tomato on Monday, knowing that healthy tomatoes are vital to the continued operation of the clinic.
This Saturday, Aug. 1, from 5 to 8 p.m., the Good Shepherd Clinic will host it's seventh annual Tomato Sandwich Party inside the Fellowship Hall of First Baptist Church of Morrow. The tomato-sandwich benefit idea, which was first used as a political fund-raiser for former state representative Jim Wood, has been adopted by the clinic, and has become its most successful fund-raiser.
Lisa Page, administrator of the Good Shepherd Clinic, said that last year, the benefit raised around $40,000 for the clinic, which operates entirely on donations. She said the simple sandwiches - composed of two slices of bread, a thick slice of tomato, Mayonnaise, and optional salt and pepper - have helped generate the bulk of the clinic's yearly operating budget.
"It's a good time for a good cause," Page said. "We ask for a donation at the door and you have as many tomato sandwiches that you could possibly want. There is entertainment, too. There's a good feeling of fellowship and you're helping people. It's really unique ... Where else can you get a tomato sandwich?
"We saw 1,888 patients last year and we have already seen 1,000 [this year]," she said. "The need for the medical services we provide is growing exponentially in the county with the economy being the way it is. We're trying to raise as much as possible. We would like to hit the $50,000 or $60,000 mark."
Scheduled entertainment for the party includes: The Jonesmen Quartet, a local gospel group composed of Paul Willis, Larry Alberts, Walt Sheppard, and Steve White; trombone player, Paul Aday; voice soloist, Tina Kelley, wife of Thomas Kelley, co-founder of the Good Shepherd Clinic; tenor singer, Rafael Mendez; and pianist, Hugh Waddy.
Johnson, the clinic's medical director, said the Tomato Sandwich Party has become a support rally for the clinic, and also raises awareness about the local need for donated medical care. "Most of us feel like this is our mission," he said. "You don't have to go to Africa, Honduras, or any other country ... We have sick people who need medical attention right here. [The Tomato Sandwich Party is] the only celebration we have to support the clinic, and it gets everybody involved."
L.C. Thomas, chairman of the clinic's board of directors, said that last year, donations from the public allowed the clinic to expand its offices and increase the number of patients that can seen in a day, from 16 to 32. He said the party helps the clinic continue its mission.
"We [still] turn away more people than we see ... That's the sad part," he said.
Donations for the party are $10 at the door, which includes access to all-you-eat tomato sandwiches, entertainment, and other snacks and refreshments.
The benefit will take place at First Baptist Church of Morrow, located at 1647 Lake Harbin Road in Morrow. For more details, call (770) 968-1310, or visit www.godshep.org.