Forest fire, Wildfire burning tree in red and orange color at night in the forest at night,  North Thailand.

A Letter From Mountain Hope

*Please note that we can no longer accept donated medications.

December 2, 2016

Dear Friend of Mountain Hope,

This morning, I am sitting at my kitchen table, completely overwhelmed.  The last 72 hours have brought death and destruction to the community I love, but they have also brought wave after wave of generosity and grace and hope—these things come in spades in Sevier County– it is something I have learned over the twenty years that I have called this place home.  People here rally, and people here overcome. It’s a pattern that is being tested hard at this moment in history…but we’re in it together, and we will come out on the other side.

It is all I can do to turn on my Keurig and brew a cup of coffee without breaking down completely—I have cried more tears than anyone should over the last three days—and mine pale in comparison to those of the victims of the devastating wild fires that ravaged so many and have changed all of our lives.  My home was spared, but more than a dozen close friends are homeless this morning.  Dozens more folks who I know through church and the gym and the Clinic have nothing—NOTHING–left; these are families with children, people working multiple part time jobs to survive already—and they’ve just been dealt an excruciatingly horrible blow.   As I write this letter, we know of 14 confirmed deaths, 134 injuries, and that 17,000 acres of forest have burned.  There are 1684 buildings lost—homes and businesses alike.  There are folks missing and in burn units three hours away at Vanderbilt.  Family members and friends who have been frantically trying to find people they love have lost energy, and now they are dealing with the awful, helpless, gut-wrenching feeling of just not knowing for sure.

Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic was closed for two days and the few hours I was able to spend in the office the following day left me exhausted, both physically and emotionally.  I came in late, after a meeting with a local hospitality group where I heard story after story of devastation, homeless employees, first responders who barely made it out.  Our lobby was full… and the phones were ringing off the hook with patients and patients-to-be, desperate for some help, any help.

I stopped to ask a question of one of our receptionists, and paused as not to interrupt a patient at the window.  “I have no insulin,” she told Jessica, “It’s so expensive.”  She was so close to tears, and she said nothing for a few moments, and then, “My house is gone.  Nothing left.”

I wish I could tell you we had insulin to give that patient.  We didn’t, but after a few phone calls, I came up with it.  I am grateful for that, because the effects of not having insulin for a Type 1 diabetic can be devastating. Carolyn Jenkins*, the sweet woman who needed insulin, is not the exception today at Mountain Hope—she’s one of the many who have come to us so far, and there will be many follow her through our doors in the coming days. They are scraping the barrel to come up with food and clothing and shelter, most can’t possibly consider buying medications—even life-saving medications like insulin—right now.

Not long after my encounter with Carolyn, I saw Donna Scott, our pediatric nurse practitioner, sending a young woman and a boy of about five out the door with a case of PediaSure—something we don’t normally keep on hand. “What was that about?” I asked as she frowned, looking down at the chart. “Sandra* cleans cabins,” she told me, “They are all gone and so is her job, and they lost their house, and that baby, Lucas*, is seriously underweight.  He needs nutritional supplements for at least a year… How can they handle that when they don’t have a roof over their heads or money coming in?” More tears.  Of course, Donna had sent a volunteer down the road to the grocery store to buy that first case of PediaSure, but we needed more.

Normally, we ask patients who can to pay $30 for an office visit, which leaves us a $65 deficit to make up somehow, but right now, $30 seems far, far too much, so we aren’t asking it from fire victims who have no insurance to soften the blow. We know all too well that we need to keep those who have jobs to return to healthy and working as we look for ways to mitigate the hardships and damage that surround us.

I’m going to be frank.  We need your help, and we need it badly.  This will be a very different kind of holiday season for so many of us, especially for those like Carolyn who have to face the worry of not having desperately needed medication and care, and Sandra who doesn’t have the means right now to provide for the sweet little boy who is her whole world… Please, as Christmas approaches, remember that health is a gift that cannot be taken for granted, and it is imperative for us to take care of the hurting when they’ve already lost so much. You can change and save lives by supporting us right now and our patients need you. If you can do nothing more, I ask you to pray for us in Sevier County.  If you are able to help us with the costs of providing medical and emergency dental care and prescription drugs for our neighbors, I want to thank you and tell you that you’re making a difference in this brilliant, beautiful community in which we live.  You are part of the tradition of generosity and grace and hope that has always made Sevier County the best place in the world to call home, and you are the reason we will rally and overcome.  At this horribly trying moment in history, all of you should know that at Mountain Hope we truly believe that we’re in this together, and– as always– we will come out on the other side.

May you be blessed for your faithfulness,




Ashley Burnette, Director of Fund Development, Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic

Mary sign



Mary Vance, Executive Director, Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic


Donations can be mailed to Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic, P.O. Box 5937, Sevierville, TN 37864 or made by PayPal when you follow this link:

*names of patients have been changed to assure their privacy

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