LAKE COUNTY, Ohio — A Mentor church is the saving grace for Lake County nonprofit pharmacy ready to close its doors after it lost its funding,
For the past few months, Joel Lucia has been racked with worry.
“I had the letters together, we were putting emails together, we were going through our files trying to determine how we were going to notify 700 people that we were shutting down,” he said.
The 84-year-old wasn’t worried for himself, but for the some 750 people his program helps.
He founded the Prescription Assistance Program of Lake County. It’s located in Concord Township.
“We are a licensed pharmacy. We started this in 2008. I was health commissioner for the Lake County Health District. All this medication we have here comes from a pharmacy who services nursing homes. We also get it from Americare and Direct Relief,” Lucia said when he spoke to News 5 in August.
The pharmacy receives the excess medication and then ships it out to people’s homes, at a cost of $10 for the shipping fee, but the 84-year-old said if people can’t afford it, he just delivers it for free.
The prescriptions are for cancer, diabetes, heart problems and so much more. The only medicine the pharmacy doesn't have is narcotics.
But several months ago, the agency funding the annual cost of $65,000, that it takes to keep the nonprofit running, notified Lucia that they couldn’t afford it anymore.
“We tried several other avenues. We tried the Health District, we tried the Board of County Commissioners and nothing was coming through,” he said.
He said he was just days away from having to destroy thousands of dollars of life-saving medication, praying for a miracle, when he heard from the people of Advent Lutheran Church in Mentor.
Steve Bond is the pastor at the church.
“To be completely honest, the first time I heard about the Prescription Assistance Program was after your story,” he said. “ I thought this would’ve been wonderful to know that there was a Prescription Assistance Program and then to find out that the reason we were hearing about it was because it was running out of funds and was in danger of closing, was a big concern.”
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Denise McClanahan is a retired pharmacist and the president of the congregation. She said she was touched by Lucia’s mission.
“95% of the people he services are elderly people, people who don’t have any other way of getting their prescriptions and without them some people would not survive that and he’s doing a service that is critical to our society,” she said.
Pastor Bond and McClanahan had a way to help.
“Throughout the pandemic, our members continued to be generous, however, our ministries were cut back severely, we weren’t able to do as much. We, as a congregation, actually ended up with some extra funds that we had already decided we wanted to use outside of the church,” said Pastor Steve.
McClanahan gave Lucia a call, informing him they would be donating $30,000 to the pharmacy.
“She said ‘Joel, I think we could keep you alive for awhile’ and oh my golly, if I could’ve reached through that phone and kissed her I would’ve done it. I just wasn’t expecting it. I was so happy,” he said.
It is not only the gift of financial stability for the next 6 months, but it allows Lucia more time to find permanent funding.
Shortly after Advent Lutheran Church’s donation, the First Church Congregational of Painesville donated $1,000.
Pastor Bond hopes it starts a domino effect of donations.
“Perhaps challenge other churches in Lake County as seeing this as being a worthy project and not just even congregations but individuals organizations, corporations, my hope is that if we get the word out that this exists, then the funding will continue to come in,” he said.
Lucia said his faith has been restored.
“When everything else fails maybe we all turn to God,” he said. “Somebody above got the message and we got the funding it was wonderful.”
If you’d like to help, click here for the GoFundMe page for the Prescription Assistance Program.