Every year Mano a Mano receives over 200,000 pounds of donated surplus medical supplies, mobility equipment, school supplies, and other items at our St. Paul warehouse. We ship 90%+ of these gifts to Bolivia, where they are distributed for free to our 176 community clinics, public or non-profit hospitals, individuals, and other health programs located throughout the country. (We are shipping two containers with around 40,000 pounds of supplies from Minnesota to Bolivia this week.)

But there are donations we receive that cannot be sent to Bolivia. Some are inconsistent with needs identified by our Bolivian counterparts; some depend on use of electricity that becomes too expensive over the long term; some are not permitted entry into Bolivia because they are seen as competition to the local industry (large quantities of used clothing, for example).

What do we do when these items appear at our warehouse? Mano a Mano Volunteer Warehouse Manager Ray Wiedmeyer and other Recovered Resources program volunteers make every effort to find homes for each of them.

Mano a Mano volunteers sorting donated supplies at our St. Paul warehouse in May 2021 (everyone working onsite is fully vaccinated).

Here are some recent examples.

Liquid Food for Individuals Who Require Tube Feeding

Every year, we receive about fifty cases of expensive tube feeding products, which we don’t ship for various reasons: we have few requests from Bolivia for this type of product; the cases of food may expire before the shipment arrives in Bolivia; they may be damaged by excessive cold or heat in the shipping container during the 2-3-month voyage.

While searching for a new home for these products, Ray found the Oley Foundation, a national networking organization that connects individuals who require enteral tube feeding with other people who have similar needs or resources.

Now included on the Oley network list, Mano a Mano posts information on cases of food dropped off at our warehouse. We mail requested feeding tube products to individuals on Oley’s network who receive our contact information.

Recently, a 55-year-old man from Albert Lea, MN who is on Oley’s network called our office to ask about nine cases of the food that we had listed as available. He had recently suffered cancer that resulted in surgical removal of a portion of his tongue. During his recovery, he lost his employment and struggled to afford the cost of tube feeding products. When he called about the cases in our inventory, Dick Buggs, another of Mano a Mano’s St. Paul volunteers, offered to personally deliver the food when traveling through southern Minnesota.

Ray and Dick loading tube feeding supplies at the Mano a Mano warehouse in St. Paul to bring to Albert Lea.

The very grateful recipient of the cases of food sends his thanks to Mano a Mano for “going the extra mile” to make certain that items no longer needed by one patient will make life-saving food available to another.

Electric Beds

Occasionally an electric hospital bed appears at our drop-off loading dock. Although anyone who has experienced an overnight hospital stay knows the comfort that such a bed offers, shipping one to Bolivia presents major challenges: they’re heavy and awkward, difficult for volunteers to lift and stack in containers; they take up lots of container space which can be used for higher priority items; and many of the health programs that receive equipment from us have limited or no access to electricity. Our counterpart organization Mano a Mano Bolivia manufactures manually adjustable beds for our clinics.

Fortunately, Fargo-based HERO, one of our medical donations exchange partners, welcomes gifts of electric beds. When we receive one, we exchange it with HERO for items that are higher priority for our Bolivia shipments.

Recently, though, we found an unexpected home for one of the beds. A physical therapist who works with our local rehab item distribution project noticed that a bed had been delivered to us. She asked about the bed for one of her multiple sclerosis patients, whose grateful brother transported it to their home. Ray assisted with assembly and directions on how to operate it. Sometimes serendipity prevails.

Ray helps set up an electric bed from Mano a Mano

Sterile Water and Saline Solution

These liquids may arrive to Mano a Mano in bottles, IV bags, or syringes. During the sorting process, volunteers set them aside, knowing that we cannot send these liquids to Bolivia because nearly all have passed their expiration dates or will before they would be distributed in Bolivia.

A new search led us to develop another medical donations exchange partnership, this time with Southside Harm Reduction Services, to which we donate both the sterile water and the saline solution. This non-profit organization eagerly accepts these donations, which they otherwise would have to purchase as they work to fulfill their mission.

Learn More About Mano a Mano’s Recovered Resources Program

A container of medical supplies sent from Minnesota arriving at Mano a Mano’s warehouse in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

The vast majority of the donated supplies and equipment we receive at our Minnesota warehouse (90%+) is shipped to Bolivia; we sent 7 containers with 175,777 pounds of supplies and equipment from Minnesota to Bolivia in 2020. 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. Thank you to the many people in Minnesota, Bolivia, and elsewhere that make this work possible!