BENNINGTON >> At the Bennington Free Clinic, it takes a veritable army of volunteers to make it run smoothly.
Thanks to the generosity of the Mount Anthony Union High School Nordic ski team, those volunteers have a good chunk of the resources needed to make it happen.
For the fourth year in a row, the MAU skiers raised money for the Clinic, which sees patients who don't have health insurance. By all accounts, 2016 was a banner year for the Patriots, who raised a record-breaking $5,700 — nearly a third of the money raised overall — all of which stays local to Bennington.
"The Bennington Free Clinic is great and it's a community-supported concept," said Mount Anthony ski coach Bruce Smith. "Everyone puts so much into it and this is our way to give back."
The Clinic opened in 2009, but the idea came the year before from Dr. Richard Dundas, a Bennington internist.
"Dick had this idea to start the clinic for those who didn't have insurance," said Charlie Gingo, who was working then as the field director for the state's Agency of Human Services. "He wanted to know where to start, so I pointed him in the direction of the Department of Health and other places. Now, we have this incredible crop of volunteers that serve a lot of people that might not know where to turn."
The Bennington Free Clinic, led by director Sue Andrews, provides services such as free primary medical care, physical exams, wellness education and women's clinics, among others. It's a private non-profit organized by Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services, a tax-exempt, charitable organization.
Around the same time, Dundas and Smith had a conversation about doing a fundraiser for the Clinic that would involve the Mount Anthony skiers.
"Skiing is expensive and it can be a real barrier," Smith said. "For track, you could show up with a pair of sneakers. In skiing, it can cost $1,000 to outfit a kid. But I have a lot of equipment to loan because of the support from the community and this is a way to give back and support our community."
The Nordic ski team had done fundraisers before, a couple of times participating in a Nordic Relay for Life event in Stowe, but Smith said the Clinic appealed to what he was looking for.
"It's a lot more because it's local and you get the most bang for your buck," Smith said. "Everyone volunteers their time and energy at the Clinic."
Every skier — all 45 on both the boys and girls teams — were asked to raise at least $100 and while not every single skier reached the $100 goal, many went up and over the mark. Also, there was 100 percent participation in the fundraiser.
"Through the efforts of Bruce, the [team] has really been a Godsend," said Gingo, whose two sons, Zak and Matt, combined to ski for five years for Mount Anthony in the early 1990s. "The team has been our single biggest contributor. They broke all sorts of records in fundraising this year, an amazing effort."
Thanks to the warm winter, on February 7, the day of 'Ski for the BFC,' didn't include any of the white stuff at Prospect Mountain in Woodford, where the event takes place.
"We hiked to the top of the mountain and members of the [Interfaith Council] brought up chili and everyone was having a good time," Smith said. "But this wouldn't even exist without Dick or the health professionals that volunteer or the Council."
Gingo said the people who run Prospect Mountain have been generous with the use of their facility.
"We were disappointed with no snow, but it's great they let us use the space," Gingo said.
In the four years the ski team has raised money for the Clinic, Mount Anthony had donated more than $17,000 into the Clinic's coffers.
"I'm really proud of my team, that they could accomplish this and they have so much enthusiasm," Smith said.
This year, the people involved with the Clinic wanted to use some of the money to help pay for the season-ending banquet, but Smith declined the offer, telling them to use the money toward the Clinic.
"One of the real impressive things is these are kids between 13 and 18 years old, some of them are freshmen or the first year on the team and they see the older kids put in the legwork for this," Gingo said. "It's a display of teamwork and a display of care for those in need. For teenagers to do that, it's an inspiration. We're incredibly grateful."
For more information on the Clinic, go to http://www.vtccu.org/bennington-free-clinic.html or call 447-3700.