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Supply of wheelchairs, walkers runs low at San Antonio nonprofit

Project MEND waives prescription requirement during pandemic to help vulnerable clients

SAN ANTONIO – In all of Freddie Zapata’s years, he said he’s ever seen Project MEND’s warehouse so depleted.

Medical beds are scarce. Few wheelchairs remain. The shelf for shower chairs is completely bare.

“It’s gone, it’s gone,” he said, pointing to a space where a couple dozen rolling walkers were once stored.

Project MEND refurbishes gently used medical equipment and provides it to the needy and vulnerable. Many of the nonprofit’s clients are veterans and their families.

“This right here gives them freedom,” Zapata said. “This is their independence right here. It gives them mobility.”

But the pandemic has affected Project MEND. To help their clients through stay-home orders and shutdowns, they have waived the requirement to have a prescription.

As a result, demand surged. Donations, though, slowed. That includes donations of durable medical equipment that Goodwill would share. Because their stores have been closed, Project MEND hasn’t been able to get those donations.

The single item is most demand is wheelchairs. Even in normal times, Project MEND says it has to turn away about a dozen people needing a basic wheelchair each month.

Zapata’s big fear now is that they will just run out.

“I always think of these clients as my mom, my father, my grandmother, and not being able to get my family the equipment they need," he said.

Project MEND is asking for the public’s help with donations of equipment or money. With increased curbside deliveries, the two transmit vehicles are not enough, Zapata said. They hope to buy two more.

To find out more about what is needed or to make a donation, visit www.projectmend.org or call 210-223-6363.

Zapata said they are grateful for the donations they get, such as a grant provided by Texas Capital Bank, which will go toward purchasing more medical inventory.

But the need is great, and as the pandemic continues, it is likely to become greater.

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late December 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March. The first case confirmed in the U.S. was in mid-January and the first case confirmed in San Antonio was in mid-February.

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