No-cost loan closet blesses givers, receivers

LEESBURG -- Ted Emack loves to tell about the day he visited a woman desperate for medical equipment she could never afford. As they were talking, his cell phone lit up; it was a donor offering exactly what the woman needed.

The experience illustrates why he and his wife, Jeannie, run the Medical Equipment Loan Closet at Morrison UMC.

“I often come home and tell Jeannie, ‘It’s been a goose-bump day,’" Emack said. "The Holy Spirit provides and blesses this service.” 

Medical equipment loan items in Morrison UMC shed
Walkers of all kinds, crutches and other items for mobility or physical rehabilitation fill a shed behind the Morrison UMC Opportunity Shop thrift store. Photo by Wally Nebel. 

Since the Emacks began their ministry 16 years ago, the collection of wheelchairs, elevated toilet seats, tub benches, canes, walkers and other often-expensive health care equipment for loan has outgrown the couple's garage and a basement storage area of the Morrison UMC Opportunity Shop thrift store. It now fills a storage shed on church property and spills into other locations.

The church serves more than 300 families a year, Ted Emack said.

Morrison is one of at least two United Methodist churches in the Florida Conference to loan out gently used or donated medical aids as a ministry. Englewood UMC, located near the retirement havens of Sarasota and Venice, also provides the service.

Grace Talada, a longtime Englewood member who coordinates the ministry there, said it saves money for winter visitors who need ambulatory assistance but find it difficult to transport bulky items from their homes up North. The ministry can mean even more to low-income neighbors.

She remembered a disabled Vietnam veteran living in a low-rent room and sleeping on a fold-up bed with a mattress barely more than an inch thick. Although Englewood normally doesn't have space to store a hospital bed, someone had one to spare and about a year ago, some of the church youths took it to the veteran's upstairs living quarters.

"He was so tickled to get a hospital bed," Talada recalled. "He said he'd spent so much time in hospitals and [hospital beds] helped his back." 

Volunteers from Morrison UMC Opportunity Shop and Medical Loan Closet
From left, volunteers Sharon Smith, Sally Nebel, Jared Hester and Joe Dykes, foreground, show some of the medical equipment offered for loan through Morrison UMC, Leesburg, and its thrift store, the Opportunity Shop, pictured below. Photos by Wally Nebel. 
Facade of the Morrison UMC Opportunity Shop thrift store

Talada said she inherited the ministry about eight years ago, and she wasn't sure when it started at Englewood.

Donors and borrowers alike find the program mostly through word of mouth. The church collects enough supplies, including IV poles, stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, bed pans and bandages, to donate to nursing homes and send on mission trips to Haiti and Ecuador.

Like Westminster Presbyterian Church in Bradenton, where deacons have been running a similar program for 20 years, Englewood UMC also donates excess equipment to the Agape Flights missionary ministry in Venice.

Ted Emack at Morrison said he inherited the medical equipment loan idea from his father, Ed, who started a similar ministry in 1975 at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania by offering to lend out a few items his parents couldn’t use anymore.

“Dad looked at it as a mustard seed of an idea,” Emack said.

“He went to his church choir, the Rotary Club, and the men’s golf association and he made the same pitch. He said. 'If you’re ever in need, I’ll loan it at no charge. All I ask is that you kindly return the equipment when you’re done so I can loan it to someone else.'”

Word spread. People started donating wheelchairs, walkers and crutches. A ministry was born.

In 1994, Emack’s work moved him to Leesburg, where he met and later married Jeannie Gregg, a lifelong member of Morrison UMC. In the late 1990s, he felt called to help others and he remembered his father's simple idea. He bought a potty chair and a collapsible walker at a garage sale and put up a flyer at the church.

Donations and a list of people with needs quickly followed. Anyone is eligible to borrow, Emack said. The church imposes no economic, geographic or religious restrictions.

During 10 years of service at Morrison, associate pastor Karen Burris has noticed a constant need for short-term loans when handicapped relatives fly in for a visit, leaving their wheelchair or walker behind.

“Ted’s ministry has phenomenal impact on this community and the church,” she said. “It’s definitely an outreach, a way of showing God’s love to people.” 

Morrison UMC, Leesburg
Morrison UMC, Leesburg

Both Englewood and Morrison have little space to store large items like hospital beds, lift chairs and electric scooters but can sometimes take down information that will help connect donors with those in need.

The ministry is based on such a no-budget idea that a high school student, Alec Arena, started a similar one last year at Grace UMC in Chesterfield, Mich., to fulfill his requirements for the Eagle Scout award.

Suzanne Sebree, who runs Grace Counseling Center at the church, believes it was “divine intervention.”

“Alec’s mother, who works in physical therapy, collaborated with her son to initiate the project,” Sebree said.

Englewood UMC
Englewood UMC

“People always return the equipment, and the community is responding generously with donations.”

Emack and Talada said the ministry requires little paperwork. Any liability concerns regarding use of the equipment can be addressed with a simple release form, Emack said, noting that a lawyer who is a Morrison UMC member drew one up for his church.

“For me, it’s a blessing every day,” Emack said of the loan ministry. “This service allows me to honor both my earthly father as well as my heavenly father. … One of the most exciting times for a Christian is to be in the midst of answered prayer. I am every day.”

* Derek Maul is a freelance writer based in Brandon, Fla.

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