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Mid-Missouri's Dental, Eye and Shoe Program to shift charitable focus

Mid-Missouri's Dental, Eye and Shoe Program to shift charitable focus

February 21st, 2019 by Joe Gamm in Local News

Local nonprofit Dental, Eye and Shoe Program will no longer provide dental or vision services for children in the community. Children have over the past few years received those services — more and more often — at the Community Health Center of Central Missouri, said Ann Bax, president of the United Way of Central Missouri.

While the local United Way's board on Tuesday certified changes for the program, for which it helps raise money, the organization remains a United Way partner agency, Bax said.

"They're evolving into a new version of themselves," she said. "Dental, Eye and Shoe is going to become a shoe program."

The program needed someone like Lorie Smith, its new director, at the helm to navigate its new direction, Bax said.

In fact, Smith, who was named director of the program in July, texted the program's board president and treasurer on Wednesday to ask them to prepare it to begin the process of re-branding. The program needs a new name, logo and possibly a mission.

About 85 percent of the program's funding over the years has come from the United Way, Bax said. That's not sustainable, she added.

The Dental, Eye and Shoe Program's beginnings date back to the mid-1960s. In 1986, the three separate components — dental, vision and footwear — combined to form the organization as it has been known for more than 40 years.

Serving Cole, Osage, Miller and Moniteau counties, it provided dental check-ups and required eye care to children who qualified for the free lunch program and who did not have Medicaid or insurance to pay for the services.

The program works through public school districts and health departments. Jefferson City Public Schools administer the program for its students. It furnishes two pairs of shoes per year for students who meet financial eligibility requirements. Twice a year, the program gives $30 vouchers to qualified recipients.

By 2006, the program provided services to about 600 children in Cole County alone. In 2007, it reached about 800 school-age children. The number reached 1,038 in 2011. However, it has been shrinking as of late.

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Last year, the program reached fewer than 400 children.

The Community Health Center of Central Missouri began operations in 2005, said Jeff Davis, its chief executive officer.

"They are serving the patient population that we are serving as well," Davis said. "The dental and eye piece are really in our wheelhouse."

A lot of children the program referred to the center for treatment didn't have Medicaid but were eligible for the service. Personnel at the center signed them up for ongoing dental and full health coverage.

"As we signed these kids up, we found we were able to make those dollars for the dental and medical piece go further," Davis said. "It plugged them into a lot of other services."

As the Community Health Center and the program began to duplicate services, the United Way reduced funding for the Dental, Eye and Shoe Program. Some of that funding channeled over to the center.

The United Way has reduced funding for the program over the past few years.

Recently, Smith has put together a fundraising committee who will begin looking at ways for the program to raise money without depending so much on the United Way.