By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT — Wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and canes to benefit people with disabilities around the world were dropped off April 24-25 at St. Ambrose University as part of the Joni and Friends Wheels for the World project.
The Christian outreach program is designed to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the disabled across the world.
John Barr, professor of physical therapy at St. Ambrose, organized the event locally. St. Ambrose was one of 35 drop-off sites in Iowa last week.
A semi-trailer was set up in the Rogalski Center parking lot for the drop-off. Anthony DeLaney, plant operations manager and safety director at Hammond-Henry Hospital in Geneseo, Ill., dropped off 13 wheelchairs he had collected. The wheelchairs became available for donation to a worthy cause after a recent effort to clear space at the hospital.
DeLaney said he had some materials on Wheels for the World and looked into the organization. He found out about the St. Ambrose drop-off, loaded his pickup truck and drove the approximate 35-minute trip to Davenport.
There he met up with Chris Fouser, chair corps area representative with Wheels for the World. She is based in Kewanee, Ill. Fouser shared how she got involved with Wheels for the World and the three mission trips she has made with the organization.
Now working as a part-time nurse in home health care for the Henry County (Ill.) Health Department, she was at a church conference at which Wheels for the World had a booth. “They asked if I would like to volunteer. I said, ‘No thank you.’” But she couldn’t get Wheels for the World off her mind. “I signed up the next day.”
Following collections such as the one at St. Ambrose, wheelchairs are sent to various prisons across the United States where inmates repair and polish them and related items. Fouser visited one of the prisons in California to see the work being done. She said many of the prisoners who do the repairs feel grateful to be able to make a contribution to society. “It’s an amazing thing,” she said.
Two of her three mission trips have been to Peru; the most recent was last November.
There she met a man who had been a mechanic and needed a wheelchair. He had broken his back while working on a car. He had been lying in a hospital bed for four months because no wheelchairs were available for him or others in need.
When a collection of wheelchairs arrived, he was placed on a board and put in a taxi to get to the distribution site, typically set up at churches or hospitals, Fouser noted.
The man received a wheelchair, along with a Bible and information on Joni, for whom the Wheels for the World program is named. “We give Bibles in the native languages,” Fouser said. The man said he had little faith, but receiving the wheelchair gave him a new appreciation for life.
A 93-year-old woman also received a wheelchair on that trip. Her previous wheelchair had not fit her well. Wheels for the World strives to provide wheelchairs that fit the people who receive them, Fouser said.
On one of her trips to Kenya she met a man who had leprosy. His family sent a letter of thanks to the organization because the dad “was a new man” after receiving a wheelchair.
Villages, pastors and families are so thankful to the organization, she said.
According to the World Health Organization, up to 30 million people are in need of wheelchairs worldwide. Wheels for the World is doing what it can to provide free wheelchairs to those in need.
Monetary donations are used to repair wheelchairs and related equipment and to ship them to sites worldwide where missionaries visit.
“As health care professionals, our goal is to help people in need,” Barr said as he loaded the semi-trailer at St. Ambrose. “Wheels for the World provides an opportunity for our students to make a difference in the lives of people around the world and is in keeping with the tradition of reaching out to others.”