By Dr. Victor S. Sierpina

"Find a need and fill it” is a wise saying by a minister I have long admired.

This is definitely the guiding light of the Luke Society that has been filing needs in Galveston for over 30 years for the underserved, homeless, and social outcasts, many with mental health disorders.

Since 1995, they have, under the leadership of internist Dr. Fritz Zaunbrecher, held a street medical ministry to serve those who have little or no other option for health care.

Dispensing supplies of blood pressure medications, antibiotics, asthma inhalers and more to over a hundred people weekly is a major effort and expense. The Moody Methodist Foundation generously supports some of their expenses for medications and supplies. Even local high school students interested in health care contribute time and efforts.

These potentially lifesaving medications have no doubt kept many of the street people out of the emergency room with strokes, heart problems, asthma attacks, systemic infections and more. This is not only a wonderful ministry of health for those served but reduces the unreimbursed costs of care to UTMB and other county emergency facilities for conditions that might have been dealt with earlier, in a less acute stage.

Volunteer doctors, nurses, health care students, physician assistants, as well as nonmedical helpers who are mostly from local churches staff the Luke Society every Saturday. As a team, they have created an efficient system of a bare knuckles, hardscrabble type of street medicine that provides a deeply appreciated and needed service.

Last Saturday, there looked to be about 400 people, many with small children, gathering at 20th and Church for the Hobo Breakfast. The breakfast is the magnet that draws folks here weekly and is offered by a faith-based ministry.

Luke Society noted this and created its work to synergize with this event. This large number of folks and families last week is about double the usual crowd. However, because it is Christmas, the various church and other charitable groups that work that street corner every Saturday with Luke Society were out in force.

One group brought an entire U-Haul trailer with big gift bags stuffed with toiletries, warm weather clothing, blankets, small gifts and basic necessities to make the lives of those on the street a bit brighter at this holiday season.

They also included a story of the Luke Society. Other faith-based groups distributed books and other useful materials, and of course, the Hobo Breakfast provided hot and hearty meals for a huge crowd on a damp and chilly Galveston day.

The Luke Society and other faith-based groups are there every week, rain or shine, to provide without discrimination to all who have needs. They work closely with UTMB’s Student Free Clinic and the UTMB Nursing’ St. Vincent’s Clinic to cross-refer for services that can’t be provided while standing in line under a canopy.

Referrals for more advanced primary care, for specialists, for blood tests, expensive medications, social services, mental health counseling, and soon for dental services are made by Luke physicians to St. Vincent’s.

A new dental clinic is being constructed and supplied thanks to UTMB’s President’s Cabinet. It will be staffed by volunteer community dentist Dr. William Glenn and UTMB’s oral surgery chief, Dr. Roger Throndson. We anticipate that they will build a larger team of volunteer dentists, resident physicians, and technicians to provide care for this population, which is often affected by major problems with broken, rotten, and infected teeth and gums.

It was at Luke Society that we noticed the need to be filled in dental services, which resulted in a successful grant from the President’s Cabinet.

My point of this telling this story is that these dedicated people take time each weekend to create an atmosphere of caring and service to those that the rest of the world often ignores. And while they are specially busy during the Christmas season, they are there all year long.

Luke Society is a 503(c) certified nonprofit and gifts of medications, medical supplies, and money can be sent to PO Box 16194, Galveston 77552 or by contacting them at lukesocietytx@gmail.com.

It would be a worthwhile gift that keeps on giving, all year long.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.