It is nearing 5:45 p.m. on a chilly evening in late November and H.K. Lee is among the 40 or 50 people nestled into St. Paulís church in Summerville. When the doors opened 15 minutes ago, the visitors, many of whom had been waiting outside for more than half an hour, were greeted with a smile, a handshake and, in many cases, a warm embrace.

It is the second Thursday of the month, which means the Medical Outreach Ministry Clinic ñ a free clinic that Lee believes himself to be greatly indebted to ñ is hard at work.

ìI assure you that there are a lot people alive today that wouldnít be alive if it were not for this program and the people who volunteer here,î Lee says unflinchingly. ìI know this because Iím one of them.î

The Medical Outreach Ministry Clinic is comprised of volunteer doctors, nurses and non-medical staff, who, every Thursday of the month except the first, do what the clinic has done since it opened its doors to the community in 1988 - provide free medical care and a hot meal to anyone who walks through the door.

The clinicís director, Cathy Easley, says the clinic prides itself on doing more than simply providing people with a diagnosis and sending them on their way.

ìThe work we do here is very simple because it doesnít need to be complicated,î Easley says. ìItís about loving people and caring about them. Thereís more than just medical care that goes on here.î

The clinic provides basic, non-emergency care to people who have no other options available.

ìSometimes people are forced to choose between food and going to the doctor,î Easley says. ìWe donít want people to have to make that choice.î

Many of the people the clinic treats are uninsured and for those who have Medicaid, Medicare or insurance through their work, the clinic will see them the first time then try and find them other resources.

ìIf we can find them a permanent doctor itís better for them and it is better for us,î Easley says. ìThey get to develop a relationship with one physician and we are able to have more time for those people that have no other means available to them.î

Natalie Hilton, one of the clinicís volunteers who has nearly a decade of service, believes that every volunteer contributes uniquely.

ìThe volunteers that stick around find their place,î Hilton says. ìThere is a reason that so many of our volunteers have been here so long. They each find their special purpose.î

Each week there are two volunteer physicians or one physician and a nurse practitioner as well as many members of the community who assist with prayer and serving food. Nurses check patients in, take their blood pressure and note their medical history.

ìThere is never a shortage of patients,î Easley says. ìRecently, we have had people who have lost their jobs and can no longer afford health care so they were referred to us by their physician.î

On this particular night, Lee is not at the clinic for himself but rather he has brought two of his neighbors. Lee, who has used the clinicís services since it opened and has referred several people over the years, describes the volunteers as ìthe nicest people you will ever meet.î Even if the clinic accepted money, Lee says it would be impossible to put a price tag on the service he has received throughout the years.

Easley estimates that approximately 10 percent of the clinicís patients are non-native English speakers and as a result, a translator is present to help bridge the language barrier. Only in the past year has the clinic begun to receive non-native English speakers, which Easley attributes to a Hispanic family that came to the clinic about a year ago.

ìLast year, we had a family come in and we really built trust with them,î Easley says. ìMany of our patients hear about us by word of mouth and I assume (the family) spread the word about us.î

The clinic receives donations and services from many businesses in Summerville. The Atlanta Bread Company donates food, Summerville Medical Center provides lab work and x-rays free of charge if a Medical Outreach Ministry Clinic doctor refers the patient and the Junior Service League of Summerville provides a yearly grant, which helps the clinic pay for medication such as insulin. Clinic volunteers prepare homemade soup, which patients and their families can enjoy while waiting to see a physician.

Todd Davenport, president of the clinicís board, has only been with the clinic a few months but already realizes the impact of the work being done at the clinic.

ìWith people losing their jobs, benefits and not being able to afford prescription medications, the clinic serves a huge need,î Davenport says. ìYou cannot describe how important this clinic is and how many lives the people who work here have touched.î

Added Easley, ìSeeing peopleís health change for the better is great. A few weeks ago, someone came in who had not had their insulin for three days and when youíre able to provide that for them, itís just a feeling you canít describe.î

To ensure that all people who visit the clinic can be seen, the Medical Outreach Ministry Clinic welcomes all additional volunteers from physicians to people who simply want to greet and welcome patients. For more information, contact Cathy Easley at cathyeasley@yahoo.com.

Contact Michael Tannebaum at 873-9424 ext. 215 or mtannebaum@journalscene.com