Auburn, Alabama—a nice day. A busy town. College kids wander the sidewalks. A rusted truck with hay bales sits beside me at a stoplight.
Pictures of eagles and tigers in every shop window. Orange and blue all over.
At the intersection of College and Magnolia is Toomer’s Drugs. A throwback to the old world. Their lemonade is a spiritual experience.
A few minutes away is the East Alabama Pediatric Dentistry clinic, on North Dean. It’s a nice-looking building with even nicer people.
The waiting room is full. A Hispanic family with six kids. A mother and her two-year-old. A father and his rowdy sons. Children swinging feet. This room is anything but quiet.
“We get’em from all over,” says Doctor Keri. “Because we’re one of the only offices who take Medicaid.”
Patients visit from as far away as Dothan. Needy patients. Hundreds of stories walk through these doors, each one is a heartbreaker.
We’re talking true poverty. Grade-schoolers with missing teeth. Eight-year-olds with handfuls of cavities. Disabilities. Mental illness. Childhood cancer. You name it.
But there’s also something special in this place. You can feel it in the waiting room.
The door to the back swings open. A small boy runs into the waiting room, toward his mother.
The Hispanic woman holds his chin and inspects his smile. She says, “Esa sonrisa.”
Which roughly translates into: “I love you so much it hurts.”
There is a sign on the wall in the waiting room. It reads: “Free coats, hats, scarves, and gloves.”
I ask about the sign.
“Oh that,” the receptionist says. “That’s our clothing closet. It’s all Mo’s doing.”
Meet Mo Malphrus.
She works here . She’s a certified sweetheart. Her voice is pure Cajun, her eyes are sharp, her lipstick is neon pink. Hugging her is like hugging your Aunt Bunny.
Mo leads me to a back room. She flips the lights on.
The walls are lined with baskets of T-shirts, racks of button-downs, sneakers, little-girl dresses, little-boy jeans, winter coats, hats, and toys.
Mo goes on, “I started doing this when my husband got cancer. I just needed to do something good in the world, and these babies needed clothes.”
The idea grew.
“Saw this kid come in,” says Mo. “She was wearing a pair of denim shorts underneath her jeans for underwear. She told us she didn’t own underwear.”
So, they started giving free underclothes.
Not long thereafter, a dental tech cleaned out her home closet. Instead of sending the clothes to a thrift store, she brought them to the office.
The rest is history. All heaven broke loose.
They were giving things away as fast as they could. Clothes started coming from all over. Friends and neighbors from all parts were leaving full bags.
“We’re running outta closet space,” says Mo.
And I’m running out of space here. Or else I’d write about all they’ve done. The families they’ve fed. The kids they’ve saved. The orphanages they’ve visited.
I’d also write about the little girl who walked in for a checkup. She was small, stringy hair, skin and bones. Her T-shirt was two sizes too small, her belly showed. Her bare toes poked through the fronts of her filthy sneakers. She smelled.
Mo led her to the back room. She gave the girl a pair of shoes, an armful of clothes, a new dress.
“These are the first new things I’ve ever had,” the girl said.
Mo hugged the girl. Hard.
“Everyone likes new clothes,” Mo tells me.