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Area nonprofit helps fill a need with donated medical equipment

By STEPHANIE MALENCH, smalench@timestribunenews.com

An Olivette, Mo.-based nonprofit is helping people across the area find the medical equipment they need to remain independent.

Laura Singer started St. Louis HELP (Health Equipment Lending Program) out of her garage in 2008 because she saw the need to “provide any individual with any home medical equipment” as simple as a cane or walker or as complex as a communication board for nonverbal individuals.

Co-Executive Director Marc Kinnear of Belleville described the organization as a “food pantry for medical equipment.” Unlike insurance companies and some charitable organizations, St. Louis HELP does not require proof of financial status and the form to receive equipment is only one page.

Because Medicare and Medicaid only cover one piece of durable medical equipment for children in foster care, case workers often take their families to the facility in Crystal City (the largest of the three with the other ones located in Olivette and Maplewood, Mo.).

St. Louis HELP gets its inventory from two large scale collection drives each year. The most recent was held on Oct. 9 when seven sites across the area collected enough equipment to fill six, 28-foot U-Hauls.

Kinnear said, “It is cathartic to give things away, and we serve as a therapeutic intervention for people to help someone.”  In addition to helping those in need, the donations keep 46 tons each year from going to the landfill.

According to report by the Department of Health and Senior Services, $54 billion was spent on durable medical equipment. Each year, St. Louis HELP serves 4,000 clients with an average value of items donated of $456 for an annual impact of approximately $1,824,000 in donated equipment.

Wheelchairs, canes, and crutches that cannot be quickly and easily repaired to be given out, are given to Wheels for the World, who sends the equipment to prisons for the inmates to learn job skills by restoring them and sending them to Mexico.

St. Louis HELP has other partner organizations in the area that receive excess supplies from donated inventory. Food Outreach receives adult diapers and the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank receives the children’s diapers. Gauze, bed pads, and small syringes are forwarded to St. Louis County Animal Shelter. The Alliance for Period Supplies receives the menstruation supplies. The only medical equipment St. Louis HELP does not accept is CPAPS, medications, or anything prescription.

All education on equipment donated is done by Adaptive Equipment Corner.

St. Louis HELP would like to expand into Illinois, but they have been unable to have fundraisers due to COVID. The organization is currently being sustained solely on donations and grants.

To learn more or donate, go to stlhelp.org.

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