30th anniversary: People Helping People carries on mission
A woman who brings in $750 a month and owes $170 in prescriptions alone. A man released from the hospital who is enrolled in Medicare but not the Medicare prescription plan. A woman on dialysis three times a week who can only work part time and can’t afford her prescriptions. A man recovering from a heart attack with no healthcare coverage whatsoever.
Each of these Carroll County residents received their prescriptions through the generosity of People Helping People over the last two weeks, and that’s barely scratching the surface of what the organization does in the community.
“If it wasn’t for People Helping People, any one of these people could have died or been hospitalized or re-hospitalized,” longtime member Roberta Kirby said at the organization’s 30th anniversary celebration on Sept. 30. “We really do save lives.”
Founding member Sue Hopkins described the organization’s beginnings, when there was only $300 a month available to cover prescriptions for Carroll County residents in need. Today, Hopkins said, that budget has increased to $2,100 a month.
“So it’s really grown thanks to the Carroll County community,” Hopkins said.
The organization was established in September 1991 when founding members sent out a letter asking for funds to cover prescriptions for those in need. The organization operated on a shoestring budget for the first 10 years, Hopkins said. She remembered contacting all the pharmacists in Carroll County asking if they’d attend a meeting to discuss the organization. To her delight, Hopkins said, several pharmacists showed up.
“The most exciting part was when they all started talking among themselves and immediately launched into how they were going to do it. There wasn’t anybody that said no,” Hopkins said. “They were problem-solving, figuring out how to pull it off.”
That was one of the most important moments in the organization’s history, Hopkins said.
“We had to get the pharmacists involved or we couldn’t have done it all,” Hopkins said. “This was before Walmart had a pharmacy. Those key pharmacists … we are so thankful to them. They all got on board to do it.”
The idea for the organization came from a subcommittee of the Carroll County Resource Council, the same council that brought the Single Parent Scholarship and Ozark Regional Transit programs to Carroll County. Hopkins said the organization was modeled after a program at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rogers. After the first meeting with the pharmacists, Hopkins said, she truly saw a need for the organization.
“Now, we have more pharmacies than we did when we started,” Hopkins said. “Every single pharmacy in Carroll County is involved with us.”
Three years after the organization began, Kirby got involved. A social worker at Mercy Hospital Berryville — then called Carroll General Hospital — Kirby got to work connecting patients with much-needed prescriptions. The county has changed quite a bit since then, Kirby said, but the need for prescription medication has remained consistent, if not increased.
“All the time, I have patients who have no assets or resources to get their prescription and I can help them get those,” Kirby said. “If they can’t get their medicine, they’re back in the ER time after time. It’s a life saver, really.”
Hopkins said the organization falls under Our Healthy Communities Inc., a nonprofit community action agency serving Benton, Carroll and Madison counties. The organization struggled during the first 10 years to maintain consistent funding, Hopkins said, but that all changed when a woman whose husband died of cancer stopped by Hopkins’ office at Eureka Springs Hospital.
“She said, ‘I want to help you raise money.’ It’s because we paid for her husband’s medicine for a long time and sometimes we would run out,” Hopkins said. “She said, ‘I want to help People Helping People have funds available all the time.’ ”
From there, Hopkins said, a fundraising committee was created. That’s around the time Lynn Larson, a self-proclaimed “raging liberal,” got involved with the organization.
“I think medical care should be available to everyone and the idea that there are people who cannot afford their medicine is just disturbing,” Larson said. “The mission of this group to help people who find themselves in a real fight spot is what we need to be doing.”
Larson said the fundraising committee spent years searching for a signature fundraiser — a talent show, a golf tournament, serving refreshments during shows at the Auditorium and so much more. Today, Larson said, the organization has a booth at Hobbies & Homestead in Eureka Springs and regularly benefits from fundraising events such as the event held at Gotahold Brewing on Sept. 30.
“There are about 10 of us working on the group, so we can manage our booth really well,” Larson said. “That’s our fallback, and then we have these wonderful fundraisers from the generosity of the community.”
So much has changed over the past 30 years, Kirby said, especially the cost of certain medications. Kirby said it used to cost $15 for a vial of insulin. Today, insulin costs up to $500 a month.
“And then on top of that, they have to pay for all their testing supplies,” Kirby said. “If they don’t get their medicine, they either end up in the hospital or they die … they go into a diabetic coma.”
Hopkins said the organization filled 940 prescriptions last year. That’s made possible through the fundraising committee and grants from the Carroll County Community Foundation, Hopkins said. She said the community has regularly shown its commitment to People Helping People’s mission.
“There was someone in Eureka Springs who wrote a play and the proceeds from that went to us,” Hopkins said. “We helped her get her medicine on and off for a long time, and she donated the play proceeds to us. Those kinds of things are very touching to me.”
What’s even more touching, Hopkins said, is what she hears from pharmacists.
“They say people start crying in the pharmacy, never believing anything like that would happen where they were so lucky to get help,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins thanked everyone for supporting People Helping People over the years. Monetary donations are so important to keep the organization going, Hopkins said.
“We have such a strong group of people working with us now. Everyone has a unique job,” Hopkins said. “They all bring such varied talents and we all like being with each other.”
Kirby agreed, saying the organization is responsible for her lifelong friendship with Hopkins.
“I’ve known her for 27 years,” Kirby said. “Everyone is so energetic and motivated — so fun to work with and here for a common cause.”
To donate to people helping people, mail a check to P.O. Box 243, Eureka Springs, AR, 72632.