Tzu Chi Volunteer Dentist Provides Hope and New Smile to Gary Metzger

Tzu Chi dental mobile clinics provide dental care to many underprivileged people who are unable to afford much-needed dental services. Whether it’s a basic dental checkup or major work such as dentures, our caring volunteers are there to provide services and, sometimes, a glimmer of hope with a new smile.

Other times, Tzu Chi volunteers are actually providing much more, as they did with patient Gary Metzger, an employee at the East San Gabriel Homeless Coalition and street outreach person for The Encore Program, a drug and alcohol abuse program assisting the homeless.

Formerly homeless himself due to a drug addiction problem with methamphetamine, Metzger, at one time, lost everything in his life. He lost his job, his home, and his wife and family, ultimately ending up on the streets. He then ended up losing his freedom after he committed burglary and went to prison at the age of 54.

When he was released, he became homeless again, lived on the streets, slept in cars and even stayed on couches at friends’ homes. After about a year he found hope at the East San Gabriel Homeless Coalition where he received a safe place to sleep, an address so he could receive mail, and even bus tokens so he could get around.

Knowing what it was like to be home, Metzger often can get through to the homeless who trust him because he has been there. He does not preach or judge. He tries to help and give back what the shelter gave to him.

However, one thing he lost that he could not get back while on drugs were his teeth. The drug use left him with seven teeth. Tzu Chi’s mobile clinic established a relationship with East San Gabriel Homeless Coalition where Metzger works. Stephanie Liu, a full-time volunteer dentist, wanted to help him.

Dr. Liu started a treatment plan for Metzger’s dentures as part of the services provided by Tzu Chi’s mobile clinic.

Tzu Chi gave me one of the biggest gifts of all, which was the teeth I’m able to smile with now. I remember driving home with the rear view mirror on the car pointed right back at my face so I could see that lovely smile the whole way home.

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Although the services provided by Dr. Liu were part of what Tzu Chi volunteers do daily, to Metzger, it was much more than that.

“I remember when Dr. Liu told me she was just doing her  job,” Metzger recalls. “I told her it’s not quite that simple because I can smile at my grandkids now. I can talk to people without being self-conscious or having to hide a smile all because she just did her job. She gave me a lot more than she’ll ever know.”