In 1997, Joyce Starnes was a widow. Also, her father and then her mother had both died after years of declining health.
Through all those years, Starnes cared for her parents and suddenly had time on her hands.
“My sister said, ‘Joyce, you’ve got to do something. Get out of the house,’ ” Starnes recalled.
Through that sister, Starnes, a lifelong Midland resident, heard about the Community Free Clinic in Concord.
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Now, Starnes said, “I’m not a real pharmacy technician, but I play one every Tuesday night.”
The Community Free Clinic, relying heavily on volunteers and donations, provides health care and pharmacy services to Cabarrus County adults who lack the resources to obtain them.
Starnes said the clinic is for people who fall through the cracks of the health care system. We’re all just one calamity away from being in their position, she said.
She talked about hearing their stories and thinking, “There, but by the grace of God, go I.”
Starnes recalled a little lady with breast cancer, a widow with no money. She came to the clinic to arrange for treatment, then for her preventive medication. The woman also came to pick up scrap yarn: Knowing first-hand the side effects of chemotherapy, she’d begun to crochet caps for other cancer patients, and people at the clinic kept her supplied with extra yarn.
“To me, that was very touching,” Starnes said.
Starnes doesn’t have as much contact with patients as she used to. She’s in the pharmacy every Tuesday night, assisting the pharmacist, who is also often a volunteer.
In the past 18 years, very seldom has Starnes not been able to be there.
Marie Dockery, executive director of the Community Free Clinic, said volunteers such as Starnes are an absolute necessity to their mission.
Last year, 241 volunteers gave 4,683 hours to the clinic. Without volunteers the clinic wouldn’t be able to see the number of clients it currently serves, she said.
Doctors, pharmacists, phlebotomists and folks such as Starnes who donate their time make it all possible.
Starnes, Dockery said, does an extraordinary job. She’s there “like clockwork… a mainstay” of the large volunteer clinic on Tuesday evenings.
Because she’s been there so long, Starnes can orient new pharmacists to the clinic, Dockery said, and show them the ropes.
Starnes, who will turn 70 soon, said she sometimes thinks she should stop volunteering.
“But then I say, ‘No, I don’t! I need to give back.’ ”
She also enjoys the interaction with everybody, and volunteering, along with her job as an administrative assistant, “gets me out of the house, and a reason to get up in the morning.”
Besides, she said, if she stayed home, she’d spend all her time sewing, and she’s learned that you can’t get good conversation out of a sewing machine.