Published March 8, 2021
The Lighthouse Free Medical Clinic (LFMC) conducted a virtual auction fundraiser in early February to help it meet the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and to expand care for underserved communities.
For nearly two decades, the LFMC has provided free medical and preventive care to uninsured and underinsured residents of Buffalo.
Founded and managed by students from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, the non-profit clinic continues to expand its services while adjusting to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, both in its operations and its fundraising activities.
Currently in its new home at the Community Health Center of Buffalo, 34 Benwood Ave., LFMC, previously a walk-in clinic, now requires appointments to meet COVID-19 screening requirements. The clinic also provides COVID-19 testing and will eventually be offering services such as Narcan and HIV rapid testing.
In recent years, the clinic has expanded the care it provides to include dermatology, obstetrics and gynecological services, and dentistry. The clinic conducts physicals and routine lab testing, including for sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. LFMC also provides allied health counseling and referral services.
In light of increasing economic hardship due to the pandemic, the clinic started a program to assist patients with food insecurity. If a patient or family is found to be food insecure, clinic funds will provide free deliveries of food for a period of time from FreshFix.com, a food delivery service that supports Western New York farmers.
In addition, LFMC hosted a drive to make sanitary products for women available to patients and community members.
The clinic serves a dual function: to provide quality care for the underserved, generally focused on Buffalo’s East side communities, while providing clinical exposure for University at Buffalo students.
Under the supervision of community physicians who volunteer their time, UB students in medicine, dentistry, nutrition, public health and social work diagnose, treat and counsel clinic patients. The clinic operates Fridays from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.
For medical students in their first two years, who spend most of their time in classes, the clinic provides valuable lessons, especially about how to communicate with patients.
“Students learn how to talk about difficult topics with patients, such as results of lab tests for sexually transmitted infections,” says Nicole Favre, LFMC fundraising manager and a second-year medical student. “You learn to deliver news in a way that’s patient-centered and in line with a patient’s goals.”
The clinic provides all services for free, thanks to its ambitious fundraising efforts, including an annual community auction and gala, student events, and T-shirt sales.
This year’s auction fundraiser, of course, was different. Because of COVID-19, an in-person gala and auction was not possible and due to the virtual nature of this year’s auction, the organizers had to really get the word out to the community, Favre says.
“Without a guaranteed attendance like we would have had at an in-person event, we were very unsure about how many people would look at the website and participate,” she says. “In addition, because of the pandemic, many small businesses that usually donate to the clinic were unable to do so this year. We really had to think outside of the box to ensure we had items that people in the community would be interested in.”
Despite those hurdles, the results of this year’s fundraiser was “absolutely amazing,” according to Favre.
“We shattered all of our previous fundraising records and brought increasing awareness to Lighthouse as an organization through this virtual event,” she says. “We raised a net of slightly over $32,500, which is over $7,500 more than the previous record net amount.”
Among the auction items that generated the most interest and highest bids were a football signed by Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen and an autographed jersey from Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.
Favre points out that some recreational outing packages that were limited to medical students were also very popular, including a lunch and boat tour of Buffalo waterways with Michael E. Cain, MD, dean of the Jacobs School, and his wife; and weekend and weeklong getaways at a cabin on Rushford Lake owned by Raymond P. Dannenhoffer, PhD, associate dean for support services.
“Everything we are planning to do in the future depended on a successful fundraiser this year,” Favre says. “We cannot thank all of the donors enough for their generous support of our clinic, especially during this difficult time.”