It sometimes takes time for an organization to find its niche.
In 2008, Nature Coast Ministries began as a group of local pastors and volunteers eager to help those hardest hit by the downturn in the economy.
They did a little of this, a little of that, gave people food and furniture, helped pay the electricity bills.
And they helped a lot of people.
Over the years, they rented space for their operations wherever they could, whether in Crystal River or Homosassa, and they used some of their rented space for a thrift store to generate revenue for supplement donations from churches and individuals.
They became the organization to turn to if you had a fire or were homeless and moved into an apartment, furnishing your new place with everything you needed.
“We have furnished 83 homes since our ministry began,” said Cynthia Oswald, president of Nature Coast Ministries.
However, although they still do, it hasn’t been their main focus for about seven years.
“By the grace of God, this organization has grown tremendously, but surprisingly, many people don’t know about our (free) dental clinic, and that’s our mission. That’s where all the money from our thrift store goes,” Oswald said.
“It’s the only free dental clinic in the whole county, and people still don’t know it,” she said.
In 2014, the Citrus Memorial Health Foundation donated $100,000 to Nature Coast Ministries to purchase and maintain dental equipment for a free dental clinic.
The clinic began in the old Catholic Charities building in Homosassa until the current clinic opened in December 2015, with its glossy black and white floors and clean gray walls, at 7655 W. Gulf-to-Lake Highway Unit 8, Crystal River.
The services, free for people with an income and only by appointment, are limited to extractions and fillings, with the aim of restoring people’s health.
Services are provided by volunteers — dentists and dental assistants.
After six and a half years, the board members of Nature Coast Ministries realized that they had reached a point where they needed to move to a different level.
People still didn’t know who they were or what they were doing.
Four months ago, they hired a new executive director, Sonja McCaughey, a former Tampa Police Department officer.
“In 2007, I bought a lake house here as a vacation spot and met Bonnie (McMullin),” McCaughey said.
McMullin handles public relations for the organization and is one of its most ardent cheerleaders.
“I’ve always believed in this ministry,” McCaughey said. “I have a brother who has Down syndrome and is non-verbal, and he benefited from an organization like this in Tampa where he was able to get dental care. He had an incredible infection, and it’s amazing that it didn’t kill him. So, I know how important this dental clinic is to this community.
In the four months that McCaughey was on the helm, she said she continually ran into people who didn’t know about the dental clinic or thought it was for veterans only.
Many of the people they see at the clinic are veterans, Oswald said, but not exclusively.
This is for any Citrus County resident who does not have dental insurance and is within 200% of the federal poverty guideline.
Another misconception people have is about the Nature Coast Ministries thrift store.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve heard people say they thought the thrift store was private property and out of the goodness of the owner’s heart they were donating to the (dental) clinic, and that is not true,” McCaughey said. . “The thrift store has always been owned by Nature Coast Ministries, with all proceeds going to the free dental clinic.”
In addition to a new executive director, Nature Coast Ministries has also hired Sarah Hardy as thrift store manager.
The thrift store is located at 4546 S. Suncoast Blvd., Homosassa, in the plaza where Ollie’s is located.
Now that those positions are filled, plus an office manager for the dental clinic, one of the goals is for McCaughey to be out in the community talking to people about what Nature Coast Ministries does and what they need to do this that they make. .
First and foremost, they need volunteer dentists, even if it’s just one day a month or one or two days a year, or even a one-time shift.
Currently, they have 80 people on a waiting list, waiting to see a dentist, Oswald said.
In addition to volunteer dentists, donations of dental equipment that is no longer needed, as well as dental supplies, would be greatly appreciated.
The Nature Coast Ministries thrift store also has several needs:
The back area of the thrift store where they sort donations needs better lighting, as well as more shelving and sturdy steps to reach the shelves that are high up on the wall.
They also need someone to install security cameras, and they could use the services of an electrician and a plumber.
To learn more, volunteer, or donate, call the clinic office at 352-422-4327 or email [email protected].
Visit the website at www.myncm.com.