Since last August, the All Blessings Flow mobile unit and its crew of local volunteers have become a staple in the Lovingston Food Lion parking lot on Monday mornings — offering free, gently-used medical supplies to anyone in need.
Now, in collaboration with the American Heart Association and Blue Ridge Medical Center, volunteers also are offering free blood pressure checks next to the ABF trailer on the third Monday of the month.
By about 11 a.m. July 17, retired nurse Sharon Cole had done eight blood pressure checks from a booth at the far end of the shopping center lot. Cole said she doesn’t collect any information, just administers a test to anyone who wants one. If she finds a person’s blood pressure is elevated, she might give them some information and recommend they call their doctor. Untreated, high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack and other serious health problems.
Last summer, one man was astounded by the group and ABF’s generosity. It’s one of Reverend Donna Steckline’s favorite stories. She’s the rector of Arrington’s Trinity Episcopal Church — ABF’s Nelson County partner — and was volunteering with Cole and other parishioners that Monday.
Steckline recalled how the man came over to see what their setup was all about. When he said his mother was in need of a wheelchair, volunteers pulled a new one out of the trailer.
“[We] brought it down and he was like ‘How much is this?’ I said, ‘it’s free.’ and he threw his hands up. He was pacing back and forth in tears because he was getting this brand new wheelchair for his mom for free.’”
Steckline said the man’s mother recently died, and he brought that wheelchair back to pass on to someone else.
“And that’s what the whole term ‘All Blessings Flow’ is all about,” she added.
The Charlottesville faith-based nonprofit collects, cleans and refurbishes used medical equipment to distribute free of charge to people in need throughout Central Virginia.
The colorful ABF trailer, stocked with medical supplies, stops in Buckingham County on Tuesdays, Fluvanna County on Wednesdays, Louisa County on Thursdays and Orange County on Fridays. When the unit’s in Lovingston on Mondays from 10 a.m. to noon, volunteers from Trinity Episcopal and other community churches help collect donated medical supplies, and distribute items to anyone who stops by. If a community member needs something that’s not available that Monday, ABF workers can add the item to a waitlist and bring it to Lovingston at a future visit.
“It’s where we are supposed to be, out in the community,” Steckline said of the work.
Jenni Kitchen with Charlottesville nonprofit On Our Own was manning a table with free Narcan and fentanyl test kits that Monday. Kitchen explained On Our Own offers peer recovery support groups throughout the week for community members struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
“It’s ‘come as you are, everybody’s welcome,’” Kitchen said. Her booth is part of the nonprofit’s new harm reduction outreach program in Charlottesville and Albemarle, Nelson, Fluvanna and Green counties.
“This should be in every first aid kit,” she said, explaining how Narcan acts as an anti-drug, instantly blocking the effects of opioids in someone’s system once administered.
In the first two weeks of the program, and on stops in Nelson, Louisa and Charlottesville, Kitchen had already distributed 200 doses of Narcan. Kitchen gives anyone 18 years or older a little handheld box of the medication and teaches them how to use it.
She also was offering fentanyl test kits: “This is so people who are actively using know what they’re using. So they can make the choice to either adjust the amount they use, not use, or make sure that someone around them has Narcan in case things go sideways.”
Kitchen lost four family members to substance use disorder, which motivates her to intervene for others.
“It really drives me though, to use that experience to make sure that it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, someone may be experiencing an opioid overdose if they have slow, weak or no breathing; cold and/or clammy skin; discolored skin especially in the lips and nails; are making choking and gurgling sounds; and are falling asleep or losing consciousness. If you think someone might be having an overdose, the CDC directs bystanders to call 911 immediately, administer naloxone (Narcan) if available, try to keep the person awake and breathing, lay them on their side to prevent choking, and stay with them until emergency assistance arrives.
Over by the All Blessings Flow trailer, Poppet Nelson and Debby Ashley, parishioners with Trinity Episcopal and Calvary Baptist Church talked about how the support they’re offering, and what a community member might need, isn’t always physical. Nelson shared a story about praying with a grandmother and her grandchild who saw their setup outside the shopping center and just asked for prayers.
“I always feel like I get the blessings back,” she said.
Steckline added, “they’ll share a story of what’s going on in their life and we always ask ‘would like prayer?’”
“You can see the help. It’s tangible. It’s beautiful.”