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Alberta man steps up to help Red Cross get second-hand mobility aids to people in need

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After noticing mobility aids were overflowing the lost and found at a hospital he worked at, an Alberta man decided to find a way to get the equipment to people who needed it. Tiffany Lizée has more on how donation pickups keep him busy, but more are needed – Feb 5, 2021

After noticing mobility aids were overflowing the lost and found at a hospital he worked at, an Alberta man decided to find a way to get the equipment to people who needed it.

Justin Karastas teamed up with the Canadian Red Cross, who noticed his efforts and helps distribute the donations through their Health Equipment Loan Program (HELP).

Read more: Government of Alberta launches online tool for seniors benefits

Noticing the need

Karastas, a peace officer with Alberta Health Services, noticed a lot of elderly patients being hospitalized from falls because they couldn’t afford proper mobility supports or didn’t qualify for government aid.

“I felt that it was my responsibility — not only to start this program — but to give back,” he said. “With my job, I try to help whoever I can.”

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The solution seemed simple to Karastas; connect the no-longer-needed mobile aids in the lost and found with people who could use — but not afford — them.

“Unfortunately, these organizations can’t go to each individual house, they can’t pick everything up on their own time — they are busy — so I’m just trying to alleviate the stress on them a little bit,” said Karastas.

Volunteers pick up, clean and assess the donated equipment for any damages before bringing the items to the Red Cross. Justin Karastas

For the past two years, he’s been doing just that; spending his free time driving around and collecting second-hand mobility aids.

He cleans them up and then brings the items to the Red Cross, where they are matched with people who temporarily need the extra help.

It’s not uncommon for donations to come from homes where a family member has passed, but Karastas said the simple action often brings solace.

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“A lot of the families find comfort that their loved one’s belongings are going back into the immediate communities to help out others,” he added.

Steps in the right direction

Volunteers — like Karastas and his crew of five — are busy at all hours of the day, collecting anything from wheelchairs to bed handles.

But when asked if the donations are keeping up with demand, Karastas answer is “not even close.”

But Alberta HELP manager Diane Bukmeier says, if it wasn’t for Red Cross volunteers like Karastas, programs like HELP wouldn’t be possible.

“I’m just trying to do my part,” said Karastas. “It’s something that we can actually put forth and hopefully we can take something positive out of this year.”

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Health Equipment Loan Program

Having access to a mobility aid can make a big difference for patients.

The program assists people who are suffering from injury illness or having mobility issues and offers equipment loans for up to six months.

Allowing them to heal in the comfort of their own home — something Bukmeier says, is invaluable.

“Every day we hear from our clients just how appreciative they are,” she said. “It makes a huge difference.”

Read more: Red Cross offering money, PPE and training to charities for pandemic relief

Bukmeier added how grateful the organization is for the hard work of volunteers.

“If (patients) don’t have the means to purchase equipment, we are loan program, so it allows them to have dignity and independence and be at home that.”

Equipment donations can also be directly dropped off at the Red Cross Health Equipment loan locations, listed on their website. Justin Karastas

On their website, the Red Cross lists the following items as “needed”.

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  • Wheelchairs
  • Walkers, crutches, canes
  • Bath seats and benches
  • Commodes and toilet seats
  • Other durable medical equipment

Visit their website for more information on how to donate or take part in the Health Equipment Donation Program.

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