Mano a Mano’s Recovered Resources Program has shipped more than 4,000,000 pounds of medical, school, and related supplies from Minnesota to Bolivia since 1994, including tens of thousands of rehab and mobility aids. (We sent 7,024 mobility aids in 2020 alone.)

Some Recent Mobility Equipment Donations in Bolivia

Distributing Mobility Aids in the Twin Cities

This labor intensive program depends heavily on volunteers. Last year one of these volunteers, a physical therapist, approached Mano a Mano with an idea and a request. She told us stories of many of her Twin Cities’ patients who either lack health insurance or whose insurance does not cover purchase of more than one of the many items of equipment needed in order to live with dignity and independence. For example, a wheelchair-bound patient might be able to obtain a wheelchair but not a commode or a bath chair. Many patients are on fixed incomes and living below the poverty line.

Concurrently, Mano a Mano is aware that larger quantities of lightly used assistive items could be made available to us but we lack the funding needed to ship them to Bolivia. It costs nearly $25,000 per 40-foot container, so we are careful to prioritize what we send. The average value of the supplies we send is $300,000-$500,000 per container, so the shipments are well worth it; but there are many items, like bulky bath chairs and commodes, that just don’t quite make it on to containers. And we receive literally tons of these kinds of items.

Our St. Paul warehouse sends thousands of mobility aids to Bolivia…and receives many more. This room was completely empty one week earlier after shipping 3 containers with 75,000 pounds of supplies to Bolivia. One week later it was full again.

The physical therapist’s question to us: would Mano a Mano help meet this important local community need that she had identified, by creating an opportunity for Twin Cities’ therapists and other health care professionals to access these items and make them available to their patients?

Donating Excess Durable Medical Equipment in the Twin Cities

Our most recent durable medical equipment giveaway on Saturday, May 22nd, 2021.

In response to this request we decided to embark on a pilot project. Physical therapists, occupational therapists, and social workers identify patients with unmet needs, check with Mano a Mano to make sure we have the needed items on hand, and then come to our warehouse on a scheduled Saturday morning to select the rehab equipment or mobility aid that best meets the patient’s requirements. To improve the therapist’s access to the equipment, we set aside a section of the warehouse, constructed shelving, and selected items for local donation.

We set aside a section of our St. Paul warehouse for these local distributions.

A group of physical therapists and other health care professionals (wearing masks and social distancing) select assistive items that meet their specific patients’ needs from among those that other volunteers have collected and brought to our warehouse. On May 8th, 84 pieces of adaptive equipment were distributed to clinicians and individual recipients.

PTs, Mano a Mano volunteers, and Mano a Mano Co-Founder Joan Velasquez meeting during our recent giveaway on May 8th.

Donating a Shower Buddy for Ikran in Minneapolis

When they met afterward to discuss further plans for this project, physical therapist Sharon Kimble shared this story of the life-changing difference this pilot project made for one of her patients.

Ikran, a 26-year-old recently arrived Ethiopian refugee, has paraplegia, the result of a vehicle accident in her home country. She now lives with her family in Minneapolis where her younger brother has been providing all of her care: carrying her in his arms from one place to another in their house, lifting her onto their toilet, bringing water to her bedside for sponge bathing.

Sharon located the type of equipment that could help Ikran become more independent among the rehab items in the Mano a Mano warehouse. Once she is lifted onto this sliding chair, Ikran can transfer herself and manage much of her personal care. Sharon says, “This is a very expensive piece of equipment, one that medical assistance would never pay for. Having it has transformed the lives of my patient and her family. That makes them feel pretty great. It makes me feel pretty great too.”

Ikran with her wheelchair.

Reducing Waste in Minnesota, Improving Lives in Bolivia and Beyond

The vast majority of the donated supplies and equipment we receive at our Minnesota warehouse (90%+) is shipped to Bolivia. Our core mission is to help communities in Bolivia, and that will continue to be our focus. But we are happy to partner with other organizations when we have excess supplies, items that we cannot send to Bolivia, or items that are not the highest priority for our programs. Ultimately, we want to keep these supplies out of the landfill in Minnesota, and get them to people in need. In 2020, we helped provide supplies locally in the Twin Cities and to organizations working in other countries, including Honduras, El Salvador, and Cameroon. And sharing our excess supplies has continued into 2021 with these local medical equipment distributions. Thanks to the many people in Minnesota and Bolivia that work so hard to make these shipments possible!

Learn More About Mano a Mano’s Recovered Resources Program