GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - After the good times roll at Mardi Gras and St. Patrick's Day, parade goers are often left with sack fulls of beads.
While some may hold on to the colorful keepsakes, one South Mississippi organization is asking residents to throw a few their way.
Founded after Hurricane Katrina, the Bethel Free Health Clinic opened its doors at the Bethel Lutheran Church in Biloxi more than a decade ago. At the time, the non-profit assisted those who needed health care after being injured in the storm; as well as those suffering from living conditions as a result of it.
But although Katrina has since passed, the need for free medical care on the Coast has not.
"Since then, the director, Ms. Judy Jones, has gotten a place of their own and they serve people without insurance, or don't have the money to get their prescriptions. Everything is run by volunteers or donations. So it's always a battle," said Jones' daughter Sarah Reaves, with Bin 605 Fine Wine and Spirits in Gulfport.
For the past eight years, organizers have come together to collect parade beads to help keep the organization running.
"We do fundraisers. We collect beads, and anything else you might throw for Mardi Gras parades, and sell them back to the krewes," said Reaves. "Ms. Judy buys medicine so she can give as much as she can in the clinic without them having to come out of pocket."
Proceeds from the beads typically brings in around $600 - $700 each year, and helps serve the nearly 3,000 people who walk through the the clinic doors at 1650 Carrol Dr. in Biloxi.
Reaves says the number of patients the clinic serves is currently low, due to a shortage of doctors. Jones was part of the push for change to help bring in more doctors.
"She actually was part of the group that got it approved for doctors who were coming in through the military that they do not have to get a license in the state. They can volunteer with the license they have. That was a big deal because a license in Mississippi is $500. We were being hindered because they weren't going to pay $500 to step off the base."