Candace Hill has been opening boxes, emptying closets, sorting dishes, hauling tables and chairs and moving couches.

She’s preparing for what she hopes will be a huge lawn sale — and the more bargain-seekers she gets, the better.

The stuff she’s selling isn’t her own and she won’t get to keep any of the profits.

Instead, the money will be used to provide dental care for people in central Maine, particularly those who need it most.

Hill is executive director of the Community Dental Center, a nonprofit center at 93 Main St. in downtown Waterville.

She’s like a momma bear with her cubs when it comes to ensuring the center’s survival, continually scraping and scouring the community and beyond for donations.

“I do fundraising, write grants, hold yard sales,” says Hill, 58. “Seventy-five to 78 percent of our clients are MaineCare, which currently pays about 50-odd cents on the dollar. Every year we have to fight for funds. The center has teetered on the edge at any given time. We’ve got some state subsidy money that continues to be reduced.”

Hill spreads the word about the center wherever she goes, including at a party she attended at a friend’s camp in May.

There, she ran into Ave Vinick, a former Waterville resident who moved to England last year but was back for a visit.

They got to talking and he said he needed to sell his Waterville house and get rid of most everything in it.

“He said, ‘Have a yard sale — whatever you want is yours for the dental center,’ which was great,” Hill said. “He gave me couches and tables and lamps and furniture, boxes of typical yard sale stuff, Christmas ornaments and contents of desk drawers, kitchen stuff, pots and pans. I got nice wine glasses, a king-sized bed.”

Hill is nearly giddy to think she’ll garner enough money — hopefully $1,000 or $1,500 — to help a child get his first cleaning and fluoride treatment, cover an emergency visit or do some other needed care.

Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease, she’ll tell you. She’ll rattle off other statistics: In Maine, half of all third-graders have a history of dental decay. Poor oral health leads to long-term general health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.

It’s sad that oral disease is most common among people with the least financial and educational resources.

It shouldn’t be so, but it is. And without caring people like Candace Hill and Ave Vinick, both of whom have spent their lives working for nonprofit groups, we’d be in much worse shape.

“The average person tends to separate dental health care from the rest of the body and it plays out in so many things — the whole nutritional thing,” Hill says. “If you’re unable to eat crunchy vegetables, you eat soft bread, doughnuts. It leads to obesity, affects self-esteem.”

Dental care is costly, and a lifelong issue — one that Hill is passionate about, especially for those who don’t have the means to pay. The center, which Kennebec Valley Dental Coalition opened 11 years ago on the third floor of The Center downtown, seeks to alleviate that problem.

Earlier this year, it was on the cusp of falling off a financial cliff, as Hill describes it.

“The money just wasn’t there because we always have to make up the difference between MaineCare and what the sliding scale doesn’t cover,” she said.

MaineGeneral Medical Center, Inland Hospital and Redington-Fairview General Hospital, as well as some foundations, came to the rescue, helping to bridge that gap, she said.

Hill is grateful for such donations, as well as those from people like Vinick, who worked at both Colby College and the former Good Will-Hinckley School while he lived here.

I emailed Vinick in England, where he is deputy director of development at the University of Leicester, to ask about his donation.

He wrote back, saying he admires the center’s work, which helps prevent long-term problems, especially for children, and increases their potential for success.

Finding Hill, who could sort and sell his household items, was serendipitous.

“I really do think it’s critical in a civil society that everyone contribute what they can to the greater good through the charity of their choice,” he wrote.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 23 years. Her column appears here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]

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