FORT MCCOY–When First Baptist Church of Fort McCoy hosts a monthly food distribution for needy families or hosts free dental clinics for the uninsured, Pastor Jeff May is always there to invite individuals to church and to pray individually with those who request it.
While the church is there to meet the spiritual needs of those in this rural community located about 20 miles northeast of Ocala, these ongoing events provide opportunities for the church to help area residents with physical needs.
“We look at this as a way to serve our community and to plant seeds of the gospel,” May said. “I’ve been able to pray with people who come. At the most recent dental clinic, I was able to pray with and to encourage a woman who is facing cancer.”
The church partners with FreeD.O.M. Clinic, which offers free dental, optical and medical care to the uninsured and underinsured, and the University of Florida College of Dentistry for the dental clinics. The church has been hosting these clinics for about five years, but the clinic in February marked the first return of full services since the COVID pandemic.
Area residents register in advance for the clinic, and they receive full treatment for their dental needs, from cleanings and tooth extractions to fillings, root canals and more. The clinics are especially helpful to those who need dental care but have no insurance and would otherwise not be able to afford it.
“These clinics help people who would never be able to afford the treatment they receive,” May said.
The dental clinics start in the church sanctuary, where May welcomes people and shares information about the church and its ministries. “We give everyone a copy of the ‘Jesus’ film DVD and a flyer about the church, and we invite them to come if they don’t already have a church home,” May said.
Those who gather also learn about healthy dental habits and the dangers of sugar, including how much sugar is in sodas and other popular drinks.
Next, they participate in health screenings for blood pressure, glucose levels and other basic medical concerns. Then each participant has mouth X-rays, followed by a consultation with a dentist. And then the dental work is done inside the church gymnasium by UF dental students under the supervision of dentists.
Monthly dental clinics and free food distribution are opportunities for First Baptist Church of McCoy ‘to serve our community and to plant seeds of the gospel.’
Typically, these dental clinics offer 24 stations and help about 125 people, with about 15 church volunteers assisting. May estimated the value of these clinics at approximately $200,000, factoring in volunteer hours, dentists’ time and procedures performed.
For the monthly food distribution, about 25 church volunteers assist, serving about 100 to 125 vehicles, which represents about 225 to 250 families for a total of 500 to 700 people. The church has been doing this for about 17 years and currently works with His Compassion Food Bank.
“This is another opportunity to reach into our community and help folks,” May said. “People who don’t go to church come to the dental clinics and food distributions. This gives us an opportunity to meet the physical need as well as share the gospel, pray with people, and let people know we are a church that cares for our community.”
May recalled being at one of the food distribution events and praying with a woman whose husband was in the hospital intensive care unit with COVID and pneumonia. The next month as May was walking the car line, the same woman was there and was excited to introduce the pastor to her husband, who had made a complete recovery. Both thanked him for the prayers.
“We don’t always see people come to church,” he said, “but it is wonderful to know we have a positive impact in the lives of people in our community and that we are able to plant seeds of the gospel.”