the suitcases and duffel bags being packed Tuesday evening weren't for a summer vacation, at least not in the traditional sense.
The group gathered at Gettysburg Presbyterian Church stuffed their bags with about 1,400 pounds of medical and dental supplies, bound for the village of San Luis, Santa Barbara, in Honduras.
Dr. Tom Soliday, of Gettysburg, is one of three oral surgeons in the group who will provide medical and dental care for more than 5,000 Hondurans. Soliday and his wife, Bonita, are making their 18th trip with the church's annual medical and dental mission this year.
The Solidays will join 51 other dentists and hygienists, physicians, nurses and other volunteers from central Pennsylvania and northern Maryland, Colorado, and Tennessee. Soliday estimates that the group will see about 2,400 dental patients and 3,200 medical patients between June 15 and 25.
"Some have never seen a dentist or a physician before," Soliday said.
Patients walk up to five hours to reach the mission clinic and then stand in line all day to be seen, he said. The group's CURE International contact in Honduras is coordinating a bus to try to make a trip a little easier for some of the patients, and the Gettysburg Presbyterian Church has donated money to purchase lunch for those who stand in line waiting for care.
In addition to pulling and filling teeth and providing medical care, the group will also educate local residents about proper dental hygiene, Soliday said. The mission group typically travels to the same village two years in a row to allow for follow-up care of patients, and in other years, the group returns to villages they visited several years earlier to see the long-term results, he said.
"Many of them will come in and show us their teeth" years later, Soliday said. "They're very proud of them."
The supplies for the trip were donated or purchased at low cost, said Dr. Lee Flinner, a dentist making his 11th trip with the group this year.
The trip costs about $170,000, Flinner said, and funding comes from the church, the local Lions and Rotary clubs, local dentists, and other donors. The group will stay and work in two school buildings in San Luis, located about a four-hour drive from the airport in San Pedro Sula, he said.
The volunteers come from all walks of life. Christina Martin, a pharmacist from Lancaster, was helping pack supplies Tuesday. She traveled to Honduras with the group from 2006 to 2009 as a pharmacy student, and said she's going back this year in a "role reversal" to help in a pharmacist's capacity, overseeing distribution of medicines and educating local residents.
Medical missions have become an annual tradition for the Carter family of York Springs.
Jessica Carter, a physician assistant, and her mother Dana, an administrator of a dental practice, were on hand for the packing party Tuesday. Jessica said she has traveled with a mission to the Dominican Republic, and Jessica's sister, Sarah, a dental hygienist, and their mother traveled with a mission to Nicaragua.
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