I’ve long been interested in charities that recycle equipment that people need. I’ve written in the past about groups that recycle pianos and sporting equipment for kids.
I like the idea of recycling for two reasons. First, goods ought to be used for as long as possible. Second, far too often charities see their task as collecting checks and making sure the donors stay as far away from the office as possible. If we’re going to encourage people to give, we should find as many ways for people to give as possible. That means encouraging people to give goods when they can be put to good use.
Thanks to Washington Post columnist John Kelly, I learned about Equipment Connections for Children, a Gaithersburg, Maryland charity that performs a very important task: it loans children with special needs equipment they need to function in life.
There are many groups that loan and recycle physical therapy equipment for adults. In Virginia, for example, the disabled can get help from the Foundation for Rehabilitation Equipment Endowment. In Washington, D.C., the best source is the Assistive Technology Program for DC. Nationally, the ALS Association often provides recycled equipment for the disabled.
Claire Wong, a physical therapist at Children’s National Medical Center, founded Equipment Connections for Children in 2010. “During home visits,” Kelly writes, “Claire saw that families often lacked equipment that would be useful not only for therapy but for improving a disabled child’s life: gait trainers, standing frames, bathing seats, strollers, tricycles.”
Most of these products aren’t covered by insurance. Insurers will pay for wheelchairs, after months of paperwork. But all the other stuff a disabled child needs has to be paid for by parents. Moreover, because much of this equipment has to be custom-fitted, it can be very expensive. A standing frame, which helps a disabled child stand, can cost as much as $4,000. Gait trainers, which help kids walk properly, can cost as much as $1,200.
Equipment Connections for Children is small enough that until May it didn’t have its own office; the equipment was stored in storage lockers. But now the organization is large enough that they have a small facility where parents can look at equipment.
What’s there? When I looked, Equipment Connections for Children had 22 seats, ranging from plastic seats toddlers use for potty training to desks for children to chairs the disabled can use. They also had 31 “gait aides”—walkers, canes, “quad pods” put on the bottom of canes to help stabilize them. Volunteers not only help catalog the equipment, but also repair and clean donated items.
In 2016, Equipment Connections for Children donated 251 pieces of equipment that helped disabled children. Equipment that stays in inventory for too long is donated to organizations that distribute the equipment overseas.
Equipment Connections for Children isn’t a national organization – it’s a small, local one. But Claire Wong has a very good idea, and one that deserves more attention.
"We're not the only one in the country," Claire Wong told Philanthropy Daily, "but there are very few of us and there is such a need for this work!"