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'It was just like Christmas morning'

Dental student club raises $2,000 to help family displaced by house fire

January 06, 2014

By Kimber Solana, ADA News staff

Student helpers: Members of the Pediatric Education and Dental Outreach Club include, from left (front row), Colleen Lacombe-Senecal, Carrie Wanamaker and Tom Lagree; (back row) Christen Carute, Kelly Burch and Andy Winslow. The University at Buffalo School of Medicine students and PEDO club members raised more than $2,000 at a bake sale to help a family displaced by a house fire.
Buffalo, N.Y.—'Tis the season for giving.

When a family in Buffalo, N.Y. lost their belongings in a house fire in September, a group of University of Buffalo dental students responded by giving them more than $2,000 in donations.

“These students are very compassionate men and women. And we're so proud of them,” said Debbie Licata, outreach coordinator at the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine. “We pray that what they take out of this experience, they take it back to their practice.”

It was a routine “clean sweep”—an initiative in Buffalo, N.Y. where teams of community leaders and residents help clean up blighted areas, such as boarding up foreclosed homes or trimming overgrown trees.

The University at Buffalo Smile Team, whose mission is to promote oral care health and education, knocked on a door, one of the about 150 homes they visited during a September clean sweep.

“A woman answered with a smile, and she was very sweet,” said Tracey Fest, UB Smile Team member and patient care facilitator at University Pediatric Dentistry.

“She told us, 'I am so blessed you picked our street this week. It's been a terrible week. But you know, it's a better day already,'“ Ms. Fest said.

The woman was currently housing her daughter and eight grandchildren who had lost their belongings in a house fire.

“They all barely made it out alive,” Ms. Fest said. “Some of the kids left without shoes on their feet.”

After the clean sweep, Ms. Fest and Ms. Licata, also a member of the UB Smile Team, reached out the dental school's Pediatric Education and Dental Outreach Club. The PEDO club seeks to increase awareness and access to oral care for underserved children in the Buffalo community.

“Tracy and Debbie sent us this email telling us about this family and asked if we can come up with any ideas on how to help,” said Colleen Lacombe-Senecal, dental student and PEDO club member.

The club decided to do a bake sale, selling tooth-shaped cookies, cupcakes and muffins at the two-day Buffalo Niagara Dental Meeting, a major alumni weekend at the dental school.

“We recruited other students and spent the whole night baking,” Ms. Lacombe-Senecal said.

They set up a table at the convention and encouraged attendees to donate money into a fish bowl instead of putting a price tag on the baked goods. Their goal: to raise $400 for the family.

By the end of the bake sale, the club raised about $1,200. Adding anonymous donations, the PEDO club's fundraising effort raised more than $2,000.

“This would not have been a success without the dental community's support,” said Kelly Burch, dental student and PEDO club member.

With the money raised, the club bought gift cards from various stores where the family can get much-needed clothes, including shoes. They also collected toys and books for the children.

“When we arrived at the house, the family had no idea what we were about to bring,” said Ms. Fest. “The grandmother saw the fish bowl we had at the bake sale, she couldn't stop screaming. It was an amazing moment.”

For a moment, Ms. Lacombe-Senecal said, the club was worried they didn't have enough.

“Instead, it was just like Christmas morning,” she said. “The kids were so excited about all the second-hand toys. They were so grateful.”