Fundraiser unleashes community support for Presque Isle dental clinic

3 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Thanks to widespread support from community members and area businesses, St. Apollonia Dental Clinic has surpassed its fundraising goal from a recently launched campaign, giving the nonprofit a much needed financial boost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In December, Executive Director Norma Desjardins said that the fundraiser had brought in $22,795. Since then the clinic has ended its efforts with a total of $35,575, exceeding their goal of $33,000.

St. Apollonia began the campaign soon after canceling its annual Festival of Trees due to the pandemic. Although the fundraiser total does not come close to the 2019 festival revenue of $100,000, Desjardins said that the clinic has started the New Year in good financial shape.

“The income we received this year from the services we provided as well as donations, grants and government assistance brings our revenue to nearly equal to our expenses,” Desjardins said.

As part of the campaign, $17,535 came from area businesses, many of whom donated the portion of their budgets that would have gone toward being Festival of Trees sponsors. Individual donations came in at $5,650 while nonprofit organizations and churches collectively donated $5,150. 

Throughout November and December, St. Apollonia held its first “12 Days of Smiles” event, during which the name of a clinic patient was drawn daily for the chance to win prizes. The event raised $7,240, with many donations being made in memory of Van Buren native Patty Boutot, who died of breast cancer in June at age 55.

Typically the clinic uses funds raised through the Festival of Trees for annual operational costs and special projects or expenses that arise. This year the clinic will focus on operational costs, which have increased due to the need for personal protective equipment. 

Just as important is the spirit of giving that the community embraced throughout the campaign, Desjardins said.

“A lot of people included personalized notes with their donation checks. Some of them said something like, ‘I’m so sorry you couldn’t hold the Festival of Trees this year. Here’s the money I would have spent on tickets’,” she said.

Six-year-old Sullivan King of Easton places Christmas gifts under the tree at St. Apollonia Dental Clinic. King used part of the funds from a Visa gift card he won to purchase gifts for St. Apollonia patients. (Courtesy of Sarah King)

The campaign inspired people of all ages to give to St. Apollonia. Forty-five students from Washburn’s 21st Century After School program decorated a Christmas tree and created custom gift baskets with the theme “Aroostook, Our County” for which community members could purchase raffle tickets. The students raised $700 from ticket sales.

Halina Herzog, director of 21st Century After School, said that the experience taught her students a valuable lesson on the importance of working together to give back to the community.

“We worked together on this project. The kids prepared ornaments, the adults donated gifts and volunteered their time to put the tree up at the venue,” Herzog said. “We hope they learned that we can do more when we work together.”

Sullivan King, 6, of Easton, a St. Apollonia patient and “12 Days of Smiles” winner, also became inspired to spread Christmas joy. After winning a $100 Visa gift card, Sullivan spent part of the card’s funds on four Christmas gifts that St. Apollonia could give to two boys and two girls.

Sullivan’s mother Sarah King said that the experience marked the first time he had purchased gifts for people he did not know but wanted to help. 

“Seeing the clinical staff’s reactions really surprised him. It showed him how much a simple act can change someone’s day,” Sarah King said. “As parents, it’s our job to show our children how to shine their light, one small act at a time.”

St. Apollonia currently provides preventative and restorative dental services to 4,500 patients from ages 2 to 18, with at least 75 percent of those patients covered by MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid. During an ordinary year, funds raised from the Festival of Trees aim to close the gap between what MaineCare does not cover for children’s dental services.

But even amid the challenges of the pandemic, Desjardins and the clinic staff remain hopeful that yearly traditions such as the festival and “12 Days of Smiles” will continue to inspire people and help children realize the importance of dental care.

“Our biggest motivation through all of this has been the kids,” Desjardins said. “We believe in our mission and want all our patients to have good oral health, which plays a huge role in their overall health.”