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Walk-Ins Welcome

North Bennington clinic cares for community body and soul

Bea Talbot brought a Crock-Pot filled with American chop suey; Sherry Monte provided the sliced bread, and Lorraine Breen contributed a plate of brownies.

They are members of the Social Concerns Committee at St. John the Baptist Church in North Bennington, and they provided the meal for people who came to the free clinic, a program of Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services, Inc., at First Baptist Church.

The clinic at the Bennington church is open from 6-9 p.m. on Thursdays; walk-ins are seen as time permits, but appointments are encouraged. The clinic also has appointment hours on Monday mornings.

While volunteer doctors and nurses see patients and volunteers help clients enroll in health insurance plans, simple meals are provided in the reception area; St. John the Baptist parishioners provide the food once every other month, and Talbot gets there early to set up the meal, enough for about 10 people.

She likes to make it simple: soup, chili or her favorite, American chop suey. "People come here to be seen [by the doctors and nurses], and often they don't eat. Some don't even see a doctor" but need the meal, said Talbot who also volunteers as a greeter at the clinic once a month.

When the free clinic opened in 2009, people brought in food for the staff. That celebratory spirit of bringing food continued in the second week; a mother waiting to see a doctor asked if her children could have some of the salad because they had not eaten.

And so began the free meal at the free clinic.

Some of those who partake of the free meal have expressed surprise that it is available; often they comment on how tasty it is.

St. John the Baptist parishioners have been involved in the meal for seven years. Other individuals and faith communities provide meals too.

Because the clinic serves people of low or moderate income, food is an important issue there, said Sue Andrews, executive director of Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services. "We try to nurture a close working relationship with local faith communities by involving them in social justice issues," she said.

In addition to the medical services, the agency provides food and fuel assistance, a food pantry and health insurance navigation services.

It's all part of what Andrews calls "radical hospitality."

Deacon David O'Brien, a member of the St. John the Baptist Social Concerns Committee, helped connect the parishes to the work of Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services. "This meal is one of the things that goes on day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year" within the interfaith community, he said.

"The beauty of it for me is the interfaith group is looking at the needs of the community," said Sherry Monte, chair of the social concerns committee. "We are all working together and responding to the needs of the community."

In addition, working together enables members of different houses of worship to understand other faiths and to grow together in mutual respect as a community.

Lorraine Breen, a member of the social concerns committee, said she wanted to get involved in community service when she retired as an administrative assistant. She appreciates the work of the committee to help the homeless, feed the hungry and help with housing.

"There are people in need, and as much as we can work together and help them, that's our goal," Monte said. "Our job is to respond to the needs of the community. That's what Christ asks us to do."

Andrews said the faith communities "engender the opportunity for people to volunteer and be part of the community" and to help their neighbors in need.

Supporting the programs of the Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services "is part of who we are," Deacon O'Brien said.

"Our job as a social concerns committee is to keep our [church] community focused on the needs out there," Monte said, "and to respond the way that Christ asked us. That's what drives us."

To schedule an appointment at the free clinic, call (802) 447-3700.

For more information on Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services, go online to www.benningtoncares.org.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer.

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