South Mississippi Strong: Community pharmacy offers free prescri - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

South Mississippi Strong: Community pharmacy offers free prescriptions to bridge health care gap

St. Vincent de Paul Community pharmacy has been providing free prescription medications to those who qualify for the past 20 years. (Photo source: WLOX News) St. Vincent de Paul Community pharmacy has been providing free prescription medications to those who qualify for the past 20 years. (Photo source: WLOX News)
St. Vincent de Paul Pharmacy's main site is in Biloxi, but it also has satellite locations in Bay St. Louis, Hattiesburg, and Moss Point. (Photo Source: WLOX News) St. Vincent de Paul Pharmacy's main site is in Biloxi, but it also has satellite locations in Bay St. Louis, Hattiesburg, and Moss Point. (Photo Source: WLOX News)
Volunteers are the lifeline keeping the community pharmacy afloat. (Photo Source: WLOX News) Volunteers are the lifeline keeping the community pharmacy afloat. (Photo Source: WLOX News)
The pharmacy buys mainly generic prescriptions, but also accepts donated sample medications from doctors' offices or unused medications from nursing homes. (Photo Source: WLOX News) The pharmacy buys mainly generic prescriptions, but also accepts donated sample medications from doctors' offices or unused medications from nursing homes. (Photo Source: WLOX News)
BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

St. Vincent de Paul Community Pharmacy's mission is simple: "To provide prescription medication and wellness education for those in need." 

For the past 20 years, it has lived up to that mission, serving nearly 4,000 people in South Mississippi and dispensing more than $12 million dollars in free medication. 

With limited funding, St. Vincent de Paul Community Pharmacy relies on a dedicated group of volunteers to keep it afloat.

Larry Calvert was one of the first volunteers to help.

"We have a lot of diabetics," explained Calvert. "We have a lot of people who rely on COPD and breathing problems. Our mission is so broad and our efforts are so good that we are able to supply medications for a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't be able to get them."

Calvert is one of 13 licensed pharmacists who volunteer their time to fill hundreds of prescriptions every week.

"It makes me feel good because I get paid so well. I don't get any dollars," he said, "but I get a lot of satisfaction in being able to help people."

Steven Creel is one of the many clients who have benefited from the free pharmacy. "This place has saved a lot of lives, mine in particular," said Creel. "I couldn't be more grateful."

When Creel first walked in to St. Vincent de Paul more than three years ago, it was during one of his darkest times. He recalled, "I lost my wife, my job and had my third and fourth heart attack all in one year. I never thought I'd be here today."

Now, Creel comes in once a month to get six prescriptions he otherwise couldn't afford.

He said, "After four heart attacks, I couldn't afford to make a living. Nobody would hire me anymore. So I had to trust in that clinic and they got me to where I am today."

The volunteers make it possible. There are more than 125 of them rotating through the pharmacy's main site in Biloxi, as well as extension sites in Bay St. Louis, Moss Point and Hattiesburg.

Executive Director Samuel Burke is one of only three paid staff members managing it all. 

"Sometimes it looks a little chaotic," admitted Burke. "But we can put out about 400 prescriptions in a three hour period on a Thursday morning, so it's impressive."

Burke says last year, the pharmacy dispensed nearly 30,000 prescriptions valued at $1.4 million.

While that medication is vital for their clients' quality of life, he knows the volunteers also provide something we can't put a price on.

"The folks that have landed themselves at our doorstep, by the time they've gotten to us, we know they're in need and they're sick and they don't feel good," explained Burke. "I think one of the biggest things we can provide is a smile, is someone who can truly engage them and check on them. They maybe get a brief time where they're being treated like a human and someone's caring about them. I think that's one of the things I'm most proud of."

If there's one thing volunteer pharmacist Larry Calvert wants the people of South Mississippi to know about St. Vincent de Paul Community Pharmacy, it's that you can count on it.

"I want them to know that we help people and we care about people and we're consistent," pressed Calvert. "Whatever they need, we'll be here for them."

There is a screening process for clients to qualify for help. St. Vincent de Paul Community Pharmacy does not dispense any narcotics. To learn more about its programs and how to qualify, click here.

The pharmacy is always looking for volunteers. To learn how you can help, click here.

Funding is always a challenge. St. Vincent de Paul Community Pharmacy is excited to announce its second annual, "White Coats and Wine" fundraiser coming up April 17th at Beau Rivage.

You can click here to learn more about the poolside, wine-tasting event.

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