Shalom still serving

Chico clinic closes thrift store, but continues to offer free health care services

From left: Mary Kearns, Carolyn Kimura and Valerie Sanz Sunday (Oct. 18) at Shalom Free Clinic’s mental health intake room.

From left: Mary Kearns, Carolyn Kimura and Valerie Sanz Sunday (Oct. 18) at Shalom Free Clinic’s mental health intake room.

Photo by Mandy Feder

Getting help:
For more information about the Shalom Free Clinic, including hours of operation, call 342-2445 or visit

Jesse Kearns, pastor of the First Christian Church, has been an avid advocate for the Shalom Free Clinic ever since moving to Chico from Virginia and finding out his insurance did not cover his medical needs. He sought treatment from the secular, no-cost clinic with a collective philosophy of compassionate care.

These days, he’s the president of the board of directors, and recently he’s become concerned about a drop in patients. Kearns believes that stems from a rumor that the clinic closed, likely started at the end of August in response to the nonprofit shutting the doors to the thrift store that helped fund its efforts.

Kearns says the time and energy it took to run the business became cumbersome, so the board made the decision to close the downtown shop and focus more time and energy on the medical and mental health services it provides. That work continues week in and week out, though Kearns noted that the thrift store also served as an outreach center, providing a diaper bank and a place where homeless people could get referrals, free clothing and even dog food.

“We would like to offer those services again in the future,” he said. “We’re looking into that outreach aspect, which aligns with our core values, but does not involve running the thrift store business.”

The Shalom Free Clinic was founded in 2007 by Executive Director Nancy Morgans-Ferguson and Physician Assistant Kathy Kushner in response to the tremendous need for nonemergency, but still urgent, medical care. Camilla Bantum, medical co-clinic supervisor, said the clinic is an important asset to the greater Chico community.

“Some patients have two or three part-time jobs and are unable to afford insurance or they are underinsured,” Bantum said. “Sometimes people just drop in to say hello or grab a snack,” she added. “And that’s great. We welcome them.”

During a recent visit to the facility on Mangrove Avenue, a small office donated for Shalom’s use by Enloe Medical Center, Bantum donned a constant smile as she moved from room to room. The clinic opens its doors on Sundays only, serving approximately 40 patients each week with medical and mental health concerns, at the Mangrove office and at First Christian Church, respectively. In addition, Kearns’ wife, Mary, has offered grief and bereavement support on Sundays for the past two years at the church.

Patients are greeted, cared for and offered a free buffet lunch at the church facility. Sometimes a man shows up with a guitar and entertains in the waiting room. The clinic’s volunteers consist of medical, mental health and social service professionals, as well as nutritionists and Chico State interns.

The all-volunteer operation relies on donations and fundraising events held throughout the year to keep it going. The volunteers hope to partner with a dental program in the future. According to Bantum, there is a void for free dental care in the community.

Dr. Kenneth Logan, an Ampla Health primary care doctor and family practitioner, volunteers at the medical clinic. During a recent Sunday, he arrived at the facility in an old pickup truck sporting casual attire and an easy smile. He’s volunteered his time and expertise for about eight years.

Logan said he likes to take the time to know patients fully to better understand their lifestyles and medical needs. Logan is uncompromising in his resolve to treat all patients with respect and compassion, making him an exemplary role-model and mentor for the student volunteers from Chico State, say the interns. Bantum said he is adamant that students hold onto what they learn at Shalom regarding welcoming and respectful treatment of patients.

“We treat everyone with respect, care and compassion,” Logan said, “We don’t turn anybody down.”

At the mental health office at the church on East Washington Street, Valerie Sanz, a social worker, crisis triage and mental health therapist, assesses the needs of clients, some of whom will see an on-duty psychiatrist, and others whom she will work with herself.

Sanz said most of the patients she sees are middle-class citizens who can’t afford insurance. She believes everyone should have access to mental health services and said society needs to remove the stigma associated with seeking treatment and provide more opportunities for people to get the care they need.

“Every community needs to look at this model,” she said of Shalom. “This is a collaborative, holistic, welcoming, embracing and nonjudgmental environment.”

She was echoed by Carolyn Kimura, a psychiatrist with Butte County Behavioral Health who has treated people for depression, mild bi-polar disorder and anxiety, among other mental health concerns. She’s been volunteering at Shalom since 2007 and sees about six clients each Sunday, and says she’s grateful for the people who come here to access services.

“I applaud them for seeking and getting help,” Kimura said. “A lot of these people are my heroes.”