PITTSTON ‚?? Blanca Gonzalez, Wilkes-Barre, waited for her appointment at the Care & Concern Free Clinic in Pittston one recent night to get help for asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure and to warm her heart.
The single mother recently arrived at the clinic unable to breathe, but the staff was able to get treatment and medication for her. Now she smiles.
The Care & Concern Ministry, based at St. John the Evangelist Church facilities on William Street, offers a food pantry, an adult health clinic, a pediatric clinic, a kids‚?? closet and a knitting group. All its ministries are filled with staff dedicated to bettering the lives of members of the community.
The ministries have served more than 6,000 area residents in the five years since it opened.
‚??The staff here treat patients with very much respect,‚?Ě said Gonzalez, ‚??whether they are obtaining medical information or taking your blood pressure. It always seems that it is a labor of love.
‚??I tell friends and family that I am coming to the clinic on Wednesday night, so don‚??t even call me,‚?Ě said Gonzalez smiling, ‚??I‚??ve been coming here since December 2009.‚?Ě
And Gonzalez is not alone in her good spirit.
As she shared her story, Monsignor John Bendik, executive director and pastor, walked by. He recalled the beginning of the ministry, which included a bereavement group for those who had suffered a loss.
‚??We are fulfilling the Gospel,‚?Ě said Bendik, quoting Matthew 25: ‚??Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.‚?Ě
Dr. John Callahan, one of the clinic physicians, comes in ready to work and to hand out pizza to volunteers.
Callahan credits those volunteers with their hard work, including reception area staff, social workers, mental health workers, dentists, podiatrists, nurses, nurse practitioners and others.
When asked why he volunteers at the clinic, Callahan responds immediately, ‚??to help others, of course.‚?Ě
‚??I do get paid,‚?Ě Callahan said, ‚??in the smiles and thanks of the patients we serve.‚?Ě
Nurse practitioner Bernie Ambrosino is also the recipient of many smiles.
Knowing the patients by name, she is also aware of the medical needs of each one.
Ambrosino gives credit to the medical community for its willingness to help. She is also especially grateful the clinic is able to provide for lab work and X-rays, which make it possible to accurately diagnosis patients.
Many of the patients come in saying, ‚??Where‚??s Gloria?‚?Ě
Gloria Blandina is the director of the clinic. She shares her belief: that each of us is on a journey, a journey made better by heartfelt service to others.
Blandina originally joined the ministry believing she would be helping once a year with a food giveaway. Her fellow staff and the need of the community inspired her long-term commitment to the ministry.
‚??In this present economy, we serve not only the poor, but those who have jobs and can simply not afford health insurance.‚?Ě said Blandina. ‚??We look at the whole person, often referring for mental health services or additional support.‚?Ě
Ernie Pagliarini and other area dentists also donate their time to the clinic.
‚??Dental services are an overwhelming need right now,‚?Ě said Pagliarini. ‚??Many area residents come here because they simply don‚??t have the extra money in their budget to address their dental needs.‚?Ě
Peggy Burke, director of the ministry‚??s food pantry, provides for the nutritional needs of area residents with the same attitude of care and concern. She views that pantry as a service both to the community and to the Lord.
The pantry makes food available to more than 700 area low-income families at no cost. It works with the Commission on Economic Opportunity, based in Wilkes-Barre, and other area agencies.
Burke, a registered dietitian, ensures the food provided is as healthy as possible. She emphasizes the ministry‚??s concern for its clients in the long term.
‚??We have many invisible poor in the community,‚?Ě said Burke, ‚??our job is to accurately identify the need and offer appropriate help.‚?Ě
Feeding families helps not only those families, but the entire community. Healthy family members are able to work and productively participate in community activities.
Burke also runs the knitting group on Sunday night, which provides lessons in knitting, plus hats, mittens and lap blankets to those in need.
The ministry also offers a pediatric clinic, open the first and third Thursday of the month.
Dr. Michael Imbrogno, his wife, Sharon Imbrogno, a registered nurse, and Jim Cortegerone focus on providing quality care in a positive atmosphere.
The ministry is completed with the Kids Clothes Closet that offers clothes for area children. Headed by Susan Lombardo, the ministry accepts clothing from infants to children‚??s size 16.
Bendik, looking out at those participating in the ministry, both volunteers and participants, said he feels he has made the best use of the space available within his parish.
‚??We could have done a lot of things with this building,‚?Ě said Bendik, ‚??but I am sure we made the right choice.‚?Ě
‚?Ę Accepts food donations and hats, gloves and mittens.
‚?Ę Volunteers, especially health care professionals. The clinic is in need of doctors, even if they could volunteer only once a month, and specialists: orthopedists, neurologists, cardiologists, dermatologists and dentists.
‚?Ę Will be updating its waiting area, and is need of financial assistance and any appropriate furniture.
‚?Ę Accepts yarn and new members.
‚?Ę Clothing is accepted from infant through children‚??s size 16.
Adult Clinic: 5:30 ‚?? 9 p.m. Wednesdays
Pediatric Clinic: 4:30 p.m., first and third Thursday
Food Pantry: Opens 9:30 a.m. Wednesdays
Kids Closet: 9 - 1‚??1:30 a.m., and 5 ‚?? 7 p.m. Wednesdays
Bereavement Support: To restart in January
Mail contributions to St. John the Evangelist Church, c/o Care & Concern Ministry, 35 William St., Pittston, PA 18640.