CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Imagine not being able to go to the drugstore and get over the counter medicine whenever you have cold or allergies - or even a simple headache.
It’s a reality for many of our neighbors here in Mecklenburg County - those who live on the financial edge every month. For them, buying allergy and cold medicine or band aids takes a backseat to paying their bills and putting food on the table.
But, a new venture from MedAssist - a statewide organization that seeks to provide medicine for the uninsured - is hoping to change that with its new Over-the-Counter Free Store.
Cheyenne Cooley, 26, is pregnant with her first child. She heard about the MedAssist OTC Free store on Facebook.
“It's almost too good to be true,” she said. “I definitely can't afford everything in here. I would have to take one at a time, maybe if I had to buy it. I don't need to take any extra time to cut out any coupons or worry if it's on sale. I can just come and not have to have worry.”
It's a worry that so many face when you consider the average consumer spends $338 a year - roughly $30 a month on over-the-counter meds. But no one pays a dime at the OTC Free Store thanks to MedAssist and its partners Second Harvest Food Bank and California-based international aid organization Direct Relief. Anyone can come and get up to five OTC meds every 30 days – so they can serve as many people as possible - all of which are donated.
“We want to make sure that these items are not going into landfills that they're actually going to people who need them,” said Kristin Young, Communications Director for MedAssist.
She told WBTV their warehouse receives a dozen pallets piled high with boxes every Tuesday. Volunteers then sort through the items - and stock the store's shelves.
“This packaging could have been changed by a marketing company or a Walmart got too many of these items so they pull it off the shelf because they can't sell it and now we're here distributing it making sure they're going home with someone who truly needs it,” Young said.
That need made clear by the overwhelming response to the store. MedAssist says more than 16-hundred people have come through its doors since it opened in late July. The store has some of everything from cold, flu and pain relief to women’s health, vitamins and family planning items.
Basic Meds CEO Lori Giang says can help families avoid costly trips to the E-R. “A mother who has a child that has a fever,” she pointed out.
“If they have no Tylenol to alleviate symptoms, they will take them to the ER. Then taxpayers and the community pay for that visit.”
In fact, Giang says for every one to two dollars of funding they receive for the OTC free store saves taxpayers six to seven dollars in healthcare costs.
That means Cooley has one less worry as she prepares to welcome her first child next month.
“Maybe a couple of months after I have the baby, I'll be back for sure,” she said. “To get what I need. It is convenient.”
The OTC Free Store offers more than just the five OTC meds. You can also get first aid supplies and DME - or durable medical equipment. Things like blood pressure cuffs, ace bandanges and first aid supplies.
Most individuals leave the store with more than half a dozen items to take home - absolutely free. MedAssist also wants to make sure everyone is using this meds safely which is why they require everyone coming in to be at least 18 years old and bring your I-D. No other information such as proof of income is needed.
Then, volunteers get you signed up in the system so they can keep track of how often you’re coming to the store.
Although they won’t turn away anyone who comes to the store, MedAssist goal is to target low-income families and the uninsured or underinsured. The OTC Free Store is located in one of Mecklenburg County’s poorest neighborhoods - off Wilkinson Blvd at 4428 Taggart Creek Road, Suite 101 in Charlotte.
They say that was strategic because they want to make sure those that really need it - know it’s there.