MADISON (WKOW) -- A number of people lined up at the Alliant Energy Center Thursday to make sure they receive free dental care when doors open Friday morning.
The Wisconsin Dental Association's "Mission of Mercy" will seek to help more than 3,000 patients June 29 and 30.
Jonathon Bedford was the first to stake out a spot. In his own words, he was "totally surprised" that no one else was waiting when he arrived just after 8:00 a.m.
"I couldn't get this done otherwise," Bedford said. And to make sure he would become a patient Friday, he arrived almost 20 hours early for the first-come, first-served clinic. "Met real nice people in line and couldn't have had a better time," Bedford said, though the heat index neared 110 degrees.
His neighbor in line Terri Gerambil got there soon after. Like Bedford, she doesn't have health or dental insurance. "By the time you pay your rent and your food and your utilities, and all the other things, the economy the way it is, ya know, you put that on the back burner," she said.
Dr. Gene Shoemaker of the Wisconsin Dental Association, who has a private firm in Waukesha, said the long line isn't a surprise. "People are so desperate for dental care they'll get here 24 hours ahead of time, even in the daunting heat," Shoemaker said.
Those we spoke with in line said they brought extra water and ice to take on the heat.
"A lot of people don't have the insurance that they need, I wish I did, I wouldn't be here today," said Greg Maruska, who drove to Madison from Milwaukee Thursday to get in line.
The clinic runs for two days with more than 1,500 volunteer dentists, dental hygienists, and assistants. This is the largest "Mission of Mercy" ever staged in the United States.
Organizers said early arrival is encouraged because their quota often fills by 10 a.m.
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