OLEAN – When a loved one comes home from intense surgery, receives a life-changing diagnosis, or needs a pair of crutches due to a sprained ankle, buy hundreds of dollars worth of medical equipment can be a challenge.
Fortunately, a place where area residents and agencies can donate, borrow, or trade these supplies for free is open again in the heart of Olean.
Operated by Interfaith Caregivers, the new Olean Area Medical Equipment Loan Center is located at 315 W. State St. and contains hundreds of items, ranging from sanitary wipes and shower caps to walkers, portable dressers and bedding.
“Everything you see, people stopped and brought and gave,” said Julie Hall, executive director of Interfaith Caregivers. “You would be shocked to know how much has already been spent, because it is only a fraction of what has already been done. It’s a constant turnover.
Following the closure of the former Cornerstone medical loan practice in the summer of 2020, the Interfaith Caregivers Board of Directors has decided to move forward with the search for a new home for the service whose area desperately needed.
The loan center, which had a soft reopening in October 2021, held its official grand opening on Friday. With two adjoining rooms — one with smaller items and facing West State Street, the other with larger equipment exiting to the rear parking lot — Hall said the continuous in-and-out cycle of equipment was easy to manage.
“I think at Christmas our number of people who came to borrow things was well over 100 in total,” she said.
MJJ Holdings LCC, owner of the building, recently received a grant from the Rural Revitalization Program to help renovate the new lending closet and its adjoining storefront. Hall said the roof was completed within the past two weeks, and the project to update the doors, windows, exteriors and interior walls will continue in the coming months.
Before moving into the West State Street storefront, Hall said they started keeping items people donated in a storage unit. Because these are items people often need for a limited time, givers and borrowers often come or leave with a full car.
“When you’re caring for someone whose needs are great, it takes a lot,” she added. “It’s a wonderful balance between acquiring and lending. What else would you do with all of this?
Andy Beneng, board member of Interfaith Caregivers, said they also plan to offer wheelchairs on short-term loan for up to 72 hours through Buffalo Wheelchair.
“Sometimes people just need it for Thanksgiving or a concert or a wedding or something,” he explained. “It’s nice to have this customer service close by.”
Chuck Struble, who helps out at the new loan center, said he couldn’t believe the generosity of people donating. He said it must have been euphoric for them to find a place like the center where the new equipment and supplies would still be used.
“It’s a great feeling to try to help people I know who have suffered a loss or someone needs medical equipment,” he added. “And then they can pass it on to someone else. It goes a long way.”
Susan Ostrander, Associate Program Director at Total Senior Care, is also working with Interfaith Caregivers to promote their new program, Caregiver Tech Solutions. Similar to the Lending Center, the program helps connect loved ones 55 or older and their caregivers to technology to facilitate the care process, such as cameras, tablets and more. For more information, call (716) 532-1010 or visit www.caregivertechsolutions.org.
“We have a lot of funding for people and it really gives them the opportunity to get that technology solution that you don’t think of and give them a break,” Ostrander said.
Although the loan center primarily serves Cattaraugus and parts of Allegany counties, Hall said some people came from Erie County or McKean County after word of mouth started spreading. In addition to families, she said nurses, teachers and other representatives of local organizations worked with them to donate and borrow items.
Hall praised the efforts of Vickey McKinney and Norma Britt, two volunteers from the old loan closet, for helping interfaith helpers through the process of opening the new space.
“They have both been wonderful consultants to us. Vickey was actually here yesterday helping us get settled,” Hall said. “We have a few other people ready to join us.”
As Interfaith Caregivers is a non-profit organization that does not receive government funding, the organization relies on donations from the community to provide its services, including transportation by appointment, vision loss service and program Annual Gift Tree.
The Olean Area Medical Equipment Loan Center is open Mondays and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to noon. Hall said they hope to expand their hours with more volunteers, but will make special arrangements if possible.