Ivey Belch, pastor of the Ocracoke Life Saving Church, organizes food donated by the Waymaker Youth Ministry of the Currituck Area. Photo by Darlene Styron

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By Connie Leinbach

Ocracoke Island is thankful as it continues to receive help from groups far and wide. Help is a welcome thing on an island reliant chiefly on ferries for transportation.

Over the last year, since Hurricane Dorian flooded the island on Sept. 6, 2019, the island has seen a mammography van, off-island food trucks, groups bringing food, books, child car seats and more.

On Tuesday, Ivey Belch, pastor of the Life Saving Church, brought a van and trailer full of donated food for island patrons of the Bread of Life Food Pantry.

The Waymaker Youth Ministry, a collaboration of multiple churches in the Currituck area, prepared the feast items, which islanders received, along with turkeys, on Wednesday.

Before that, the Baptists on Mission Dental Van, based in Cary, was the latest group to travel here to provide free dental services to an island that has only one doctor at the Ocracoke Health Center.

The van, which normally does its work on weekends all around North Carolina, parked for three days Nov. 18 to 20 behind the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department.

Lee Phillips drives the dental van for the Baptists on Mission. Photo: C. Leinbach

Staffed by three retired dentists and volunteer hygienists and aides, the group served 69 Ocracokers, said Julie Dolinger, who is the van’s only paid staff.

Twelve patients had cleanings, 49 saw the dentist and eight had exams/consults only, she said.

The quest to bring the van to Ocracoke has been germinating since after Dorian, said Lee Phillips, a member of the Baptists on Mission and drives one of the two dental vans.

“We have a dozen drivers for two vehicles that go all over the state,” he said. Based in Cary, the Baptists on Mission also have a medical screening van.

They needed an island connection to bring the dental van, which costs about $250 a day plus mileage, Phillips said.

Dr. Jim Hoke of Chapel Hill, a Rotarian and one of the retired dentists, happened to hear Phillips talking one day about how to get the van to Ocracoke, and Hoke had an island connection in Jude Wheeler, a retired medical professional, who became the point person and scheduled the visits.

“Judith put it all together here,” Hoke said while taking a break from doing extractions and fillings.

Jude Wheeler, left, confers with Dr. Jim Hoke. Photo: C. Leinbach

Hoke was put in touch with Dr. Stephen Smith, a Morehead City dentist, who got the Rotary Club of Morehead City and Rotary District 7730 to cover the van costs.

Dr. Joseph Leahy was the third dentist seeing patients.

Before the van arrived, Smith said the group needed a few more volunteer dental assistants, which was noted in online posts.

“Three heard about it and just showed up (on the island),” Phillips said. “It all worked out well.”

Hoke said the van does about $10,000 worth of dentistry a day, and Dolinger said the value of dental services rendered on Ocracoke was $16,762. The Anchorage Motel provided complimentary rooms for the volunteers.

“It’s great when these things come to the island because sometimes weather forces the ferries to suspend service,” noted Barbara Palmer, who was among those who took advantage of the dental van.

Hoke said he enjoys giving back and feels productive giving what others can’t do.

“Not everyone can pick up a drill and fix teeth,” he said.

Dolinger said they hope to return in February, but a date has not yet been set.

Inside the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department, an islander receives a teeth cleaning. Photo: C. Leinbach
Dr. Stephen Smith inside the Baptists on Mission Dental Van. Photo: C. Leinbach
Inside the BOM Dental Van has all the equipment of a typical dentist’s office. Photo: C. Leinbach
Volunteers dentists and assistants are, from left, Dr. Stephen Smith, Dr. Jim Hoke, Holly Willis and Sue Ellen Lawrence. In front is Madison Register. Photo by Julie Dolinger