Dr. Charles Johnson, medical director at the Good Shepherd Clinic in Morrow, prepares to perform “surgery” on a tomato Monday. The clinic will hold its annual Tomato Sandwich Party fundraiser Saturday at the Morrow Center. (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)
MORROW — A tomato faced the knife at the Good Shepherd Clinic as Dr. Charles Johnson tried to determine what was wrong with it.
The doctor didn’t have a scalpel, so he had to make due with what he could find — a long kitchen knife. He held the small, red, juicy ball in the palm of his hand and wielded the knife with the blade turned upward as the tip pressed against the tomato’s skin.
Johnson, the clinic’s medical director, then put the knife down and decided the little guy didn’t need “surgery” after all.
“I hate walking around carrying one of these things,” said Johnson as he took the knife out of the room.
Tons of tomatoes won’t be as fortunate Saturday when the Good Shepherd Clinic hosts its 11th Annual Tomato Sandwich Party fundraiser from 5 until 7:30 p.m. at the Morrow Center, 1180 Southlake Circle, Suite 100. Minimum donations accepted at the event are $13 per individual and $25 per couple.
Tons of the juicy fruits will be cut up, slipped between a couple of slices of bread and served up to supporters of the clinic, which provides free health care to underprivileged and uninsured Clayton County residents. And Johnson said the job market isn’t necessarily the reason why some patients don’t have insurance.
“There are a lot of people who have jobs, but don’t have enough money to pay for insurance, or to pay for prescription drugs,” he said.
Good Shepherd officials said they need a successful fundraiser to at least maintain the level of service they provide to about 1,800 needy residents. “To operate as we should, we would need about $250,000, to $300,000 per year,” said Chelsea Folds, assistant clinic administrator. “This year, our budget is about $172,000.”
The Tomato Sandwich Party is the signature fundraiser for the clinic, which began as a ministry of First Baptist Church of Morrow and has since gone independent. Last year, it raised $55,000 and the goal is to raise about $60,000 this year.
Folds said the value of nurses and doctors services, and lab testing, provided to patients is in the range of about $35,000 to $40,000 per month. Donations have declined in recent years as the economy has struggled, so it has become a situation where every little dollar raised through events like the Tomato Sandwich Party counts.
The clinic has about 3,000 patient encounters, which is what staff calls it when a patient comes by for treatment, per year, said Clinic Administrator Lisa Page.
“We’re at our maximum capacity for what we can handle without additional funding to pay part-time staff,” said Page.
Part-time staff includes doctors, physicians and nurses who come in when they can to provide medical care to the clinic’s patients.
Johnson said additional funding to hire more medical staff will allow the clinic to handle more people. He said there are about 40,000 Clayton County residents who qualify for indigent status. Sometimes, his patients can’t even afford food to eat and he gives them some money out of his own pocket to buy them a meal, he said.
And that, he said, is why the Good Shepherd Clinic is so important to the community, and why residents need to support fundraisers like the Tomato Sandwich Party.
“There is a great need for this free clinic in this county,” he said.
And it is for that reason why tons of tomatoes will go under the knife this weekend.