Bill Clarke proudly stands in the Dentists on Wheels Free Dental Clinic at St. Vincent de Paul – the first free dental clinic in Contra Costa County.

“No form of charity is foreign to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul,” is a maxim that fills the heart of SVdP volunteers, known as Vincentians. This spirit of charity drives Vincentians towards helping those most in need, however they can. It’s this spirit of charity that drove Bill Clarke to find a way to provide dental care for people in Contra Costa County who cannot afford to see a dentist.
“The free dental clinic we have been able to build is one of my proudest moments with St. Vincent de Paul. It’s been such a success. In it’s first year we’ve been able to help over 120 people without dental insurance to receive free dental care.,” Bill said. “We’re looking to find ways to offer more clinic days, so the dental clinic will be able to help even more people.”

The Dentists on Wheels Free Dental Clinic at St. Vincent de Paul first opened its doors to the public in October 2021. Now, a little over a year later, the free dental clinic is regularly helping adults without dental insurance receive cleanings, root canals, and even dentures for those who have lost their teeth. The journey to open the dental clinic, however, was a long one. The free dental clinic’s story starts almost 15 years ago.

“In 2009, the State of California cancelled Denti-Cal benefits for a lot of people, and suddenly the SVdP branches were receiving a lot of calls from people who really needed help accessing dental care,” Bill said. “Steve Krank, Jim Noe and I started looking at what options were available for SVdP to start helping people with their dental needs.”

Bill’s journey with SVdP of Contra Costa started in 1988 when he and his wife moved to the Bay Area from Houston and joined the St. John Vianney SVdP Conference (branch) in Walnut Creek. Bill said meeting with people in need and helping them overcome their struggles had a profound effect on him. He said when a chance to do more with SVdP by joining the Board of Directors presented itself, it felt only natural.

“Being with SVdP gave me a realization of how lucky I am to be able to help people,” Bill said. “When I joined the Board, I was able to use my talents to help SVdP in a lot of ways. We improved the financial situation SVdP was facing, so we could help more people. And I was able to help develop our free dental clinic.”

The free dental clinic took a long time to fully develop, but Bill said he could not be prouder of the work being done to help those in need. In 2009, Bill and other SVdP Board Members created a program within SVdP where the organization would pay local dentists to treat those in need, hopefully at charitable rates, but Bill and the Board never stopped dreaming of being able to do more.

“We met with a lot of dentists and saw a lot of different dental clinics,” Bill said. “We knew we wanted to build a free dental clinic for those in need, but we really had no ideahow to start. We consulted with groups we considered to be experts, and managed to develop an idea of what we would need to build a clinic, then Dentists on Wheels reached out to us, and that was a match made in heaven.”

A relatively new nonprofit aimed at providing free dental care to those in need, Dentists on Wheels was the perfect partner for the dental clinic SVdP wanted to build. In 2020, a small pilot program was launched, and based on the success of that program, construction of a brand new 3-chair dental clinic began.

“We raised over $100,000 to build the clinic, and we were able to raise $16,000 per year to help the clinic operate,” Bill said. “It’s amazing how generous some people truly can be when they’re asked. It’s humbling. The gospel tells us that we have to help those in need, and I’m just honored I get to use my talents to do so.”

Bill Clarke’s personal commitment to care for our most vulnerable neighbors contributed to the creation of the free dental clinic, a program that will last for years to come, serving low-income residents who lack dental insurance.