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Equipment loans a lifeline for those in need


CORNWALL - The least-known outreach program of the United Church of Christ is the one that its users say has the greatest impact.

Last May, Al Waller was tidying up his bed when he slipped a lumbar disk. He suddenly became desperately in need of a walker.

"I could barely move, and I wasn't even going to be able to make it to the bathroom with help, he said.

Waller and his wife, Kim are not church members, but have lived in Cornwall for 40 years. Still, it was only when she attempted to rent a walker that she learned of the UCC Medical Equipment Loan Program.

Jerry and Pat Blakey coordinate the program.

"My wife went with Jerry to the church, he loaded a walker in the car and we had it that day," Waller said.

These days, his back is fine, and his gratitude beyond measure.

"They bailed me out, no questions asked. Im on Medicare, so I'm sure renting equipment would not have been completely covered, and it's expensive. Not only did I get what I needed immediately, it was free."

One of the best parts was not having to fill out paperwork.

"They just gave it to us and said give it back when you're done with it. We did, with a big thank you," Waller said.

Over the course of his recuperation, Waller borrowed a cane and a hospital table, which he could adjust to eat standing up when he was unable to sit.

The program has been quietly collecting equipment and donations, repairing, delivering and retrieving loaned items for almost 30 years.

During a church renovation several years ago, a basement addition was built and quickly filled to capacity with wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, lift chairs, hospital beds and even motorized scooter chairs.

It has overflowed into Pastor Micki Nunn-Miller's garage.

"When I need to get to something, I get to ride the electric chairs around," she said, joking modestly at her contribution to the program.

Blakey tells some stories of unbelievable deliveries, only to illustrate what a faithful team of volunteers faces.

"You never know what you're going to encounter," Blakey said. "We've had some incredibly frustrating times, but the same people always volunteer when I call them."

There are often stairs that stand in the way of delivering heavy beds. Older homes present the problem of narrow doorways.

Blakey said he will never forget the day he and his son, David, brought a lift chair to a Bethlehem farmhouse.

Getting the chair in the front door required moving a pile of firewood and taking the door off its hinges. They were asked to place the chair in a room where the doorway was half-blocked by a bookcase. They unloaded and moved the bookcase. Before putting the house back together, they discovered the outlet they needed to plug the chair into was old and had no ground plug. They were asked why they didn't bring an adaptor with them.

"A month later the man died," Blakey said. "We went back to get the chair and did everything we did the first time, in reverse."

The Blakeys credit faithful volunteers, in addition to their son, who include John Calhoun, Denny Frost, David Wells, Gordon Ridgway and village neighbor Bill Lyon.

The program truly has no boundaries. Most referrals are word-of-mouth or from the Salisbury Visiting Nurse Association. They have delivered equipment as far away as Long Island.

They have encountered issues with privacy laws.

Two days after delivering a heavy lift chair to a resident of an area nursing home, they got a call to pick it up. A nurse said the patient didn't need it anymore.

"She couldn't tell us she died," Blakey said, adding, "That's the sad part; having to pick something up because the person died. At least we can hope we made the end of their life easier."

For the volunteers, a compassionate nature is as important as a strong back.

"We always remember that we're there at the worst time of their lives," Blakey said.

Pat Blakey said a busy month brings as many as 40 calls. It's usually fewer, "But a week doesn't go by that someone doesn't call."

For the most part, everyone is very appreciative and returns equipment in good condition, to be used again. The Blakeys are careful to weed out damaged gear. And although they are essentially competitors, Doyle's Medical Supply in Torrington has been great about donating parts and repairs.

The program can always benefit from donations of cash and equipment. They have more commodes, crutches, canes and walkers, except for the ones with wheels and seats, than they can ever give out. Not surprisingly, they can always use more of the expensive equipment. They have some motorized scooters and even a Hoya lift, but welcome whatever they can get. Beds need to be able to be unassembled.

For information on donations or equipment loans, call the Blakeys at 860-672-6516 or the church office at 860-672-6840.

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