Medical equipment can often be an unforeseen expense for older Americans. But a non-profit in Winchester is trying to change that.
The Foundation for Rehabilitation Equipment and Endowment, or FREE, helps people get equipment like walkers, wheelchairs and automated chair lifts at no cost. While the organization has existed in Virginia for nearly two decades, Operations Assistant of the Northern Shenandoah Valley chapter Karen Kidwell says few people know about the non-profit.
“When I started with FREE a couple of years ago, we were looking at the numbers,” Kidwell said. “There were about nine to ten people being served each month. Now we’re 37 to 50 people.”
All of the equipment is donated, much of it through the Blue Ridge Hospice. Kidwell said she returned to her office Tuesday morning in 333 W. Cork Street to find multiple pieces of equipment left by donors.
There is a huge need for programs like FREE in the region, says Kidwell.
“We’ve helped people are far south as Harrisonburg. We’re helping people now in Northern Virginia,” said Kidwell. One downside is that as the only paid staff member in the chapter, Kidwell is so busy receiving donations, cleaning equipment, and getting it into the hands of those in need, she is unable to either pick up or drop off equipment.
However, she says as long as a person fills out a simple application and has a prescription for the equipment, they do not need to pick it up in person. A relative or caretaker can receive it in their place. With hundreds of pieces of equipment in her office, she can almost guarantee she has what they need.
Still, some people do make the drive.
“There was one gentleman who came from the Fairfax area. He had a prescription for a rollator and he was on oxygen,” recalled Kidwell. She says the man was waiting outside the office the next day it was open. “When he took the rollator from me, you know what he said? ‘It beats sitting on the grass when you run out of breath.'”
For Kidwell, these testimonies are moving.
Before she joined FREE, her own mother needed a great deal of equipment while she was living at home. Kidwell, who was her mother’s primary care-taker, remembers taking the equipment to Goodwill after her mother moved into a senior living facility. She says she wishes then she had known about the organization.
“There are people that need equipment and they’re not able to get it because of either no insurance, low income–they can have insurance, but it may not cover what they need,” Kidwell said. “So we want people to know that there’s a place that they can come for help.”
The Northern Shenandoah Valley chapter of FREE is accepting volunteers and donated equipment. To learn more, or to apply for equipment, go to http://www.free-foundation.org/northern-shenandoah-valley.