VALENCIA — The medical lending closet run by Valencia Presbyterian Church, 80 Sterrett St., has lost its founder and can't keep up with the demand for wheelchairs, but the ministry which offers all equipment cost-free to those who need it will continue.
The Rev. James Kirk, the church pastor, said the program was started four years ago by parishioner Gerry Hill who got the idea from a Presbyterian Church he attended in South Carolina. Hill moved to Colorado in the summer of 2012, Kirk said.
The closet provides donated medical equipment such as wheelchairs, canes and walkers to members of the community at no charge. The church asks that the equipment be returned in working condition when it is no longer needed.
“The medical costs have not gone down since 2008. The wheelchairs, the walkers, the crutches we provide are very expensive for folks,” said Kirk.
Hill's absence has been keenly felt, said Kirk. “He did everything from pick up equipment to maintain equipment to get our name out to potential people,” said Kirk. “We have had people call from the South Hills and beyond. The program is pretty far-reaching thanks to Gerry.”
The task of accepting used equipment, repairing and dispatching the equipment has been taken on by Denise Smith, the church secretary, and several volunteer parishioners.
“We have a handful of people to pick up and deliver equipment. It would take an army to replace Gerry,” said Smith.
The collected medical equipment — crutches, walkers, manual and powered wheelchairs, braces, shower chairs, canes, bedside commodes and more — are kept in a storage shed behind the church office.
Both Kirk and Smith said the need for manual wheelchairs is acute.
“Wheelchairs are the one thing we really need,” said Smith. “I hate saying 'I'm sorry, we don't have any' to people.”
Smith said a new wheelchair can cost between $300 and $600, and even a used one can run $75 to $100.
“People who need them still have to fork out the money,” said Smith. “It really helps to have someplace like this.”
The lending closet is vital, said Kirk, because a person sent home from the hospital often only needs a wheelchair or a walker for a few days or weeks.
“Most people just need it for a week or two until they start physical therapy,” said Smith.
“They can borrow them and bring them back when they are done with them,” said Kirk, “Most people don't know how long they are going to need them. A week or a month or a year makes no difference, said Kirk.
“It's not like we are going to go after them,” he said. “But most people are happy to get them without any cost, so they are happy to bring them back.”
Smith said the equipment is donated to the ministry by individuals or institutions.
The church will accept any donation, except hospital beds because it has no room to store them, said Smith.
“We've helped probably a good 200 people, and there's many more on our waiting list,” said Smith.
Kirk said the church will also accept money donations that will be put toward the lending program. The money will be used to buy manual wheelchairs or batteries for motorized wheelchairs.
For more information about the program or to make a request, call the church office at 724-625-2002 between 9 a.m. and noon Monday through Friday.