“I May Be the Boss, But I am Not a Diva,” Says Executive Director of St. Louis HELP
March 20, 2016, St. Louis, Missouri…Laura Cannon-Singer, executive director of the St. Louis Health Equipment Lending Program, was stuck in Fargo, North Dakota, when she conceived of the nonprofit charitable organization known as St. Louis HELP.
Stranded in the airport on a business trip, she read an article about a church delivering used wheelchairs to elderly people. “Why not take that concept to help people and add recycling to the mix?” she thought.
It was 2008 — she soon started a health equipment lending program in her garage. She collected used medical equipment wherever she could, cleaned and revitalized it, and then loaned it for free.
Since then St. Louis HELP has loaned more than 50,000 home health items — for free — to people suffering from accidents, disabilities, and illnesses or for any reason. They may keep the equipment for as long as needed. (http://www.stlhelp.org)
“It was very difficult to get things going in the beginning and it is still very tough, but now we have a small warehouse space in Olivette where we collect, clean and recondition used equipment that people donate to us,” says Laura.
“If an item is not good enough for your grandmother to use, we don’t lend it.”
“Thankfully, we have a small, very skilled staff that is extremely helpful, and we are lucky to have many talented volunteers — we couldn’t survive without them,” Laura says. “Our board of directors is very dedicated– we love every member!”
Find what you need
No matter what type of home health item you may need — from the common to the esoteric — Laura’s team probably has it. Items that St. Louis HELP loans include manual and power wheelchairs, scooters, canes, crutches, walkers, shower chairs, grab bars, elevated toilet seats, portable commodes, lift chairs, seating cushions, back supports, folding ramps, stair lifts and almost any other type of medical device. Child-sized and super-sized items are often available.
In 2015 St. Louis HELP loaned 5,570 health equipment items and, in doing so, diverted about 150 tons of equipment from solid waste landfills — Laura is a devoted recycler.
The achievement involves directly assisting people in metro St. Louis but also in foreign nations, plus sharing equipment with agencies such as MedShare that distribute reusable medical equipment worldwide. St. Louis HELP also provides medical items to volunteer physicians that travel overseas to treat needy adult and pediatric patients.
Although she is executive director, Laura shuns the spotlight. “I may be the boss, but I am not a diva,” she says. “I much prefer that our lending program get the attention. I keep my shoulder to the wheel — or wheelchair, as the case may be.
“Whether it’s applying for a grant or loading equipment onto a truck, I am grounded in my work.”
To this end, Laura can be seen toiling at St. Louis HELP’s warehouse dressed for comfort, not to impress. The warehouse — which has two big doors to a back alley so people can drop off or pick up items — is completely jam-packed with home health equipment of all varieties.
There’s no formal office there, just a small reception area with a computer desk and telephone, plus many hand-written thank you notes taped to the walls.
What people say
Marie L., age 80: “I’m glad that there is St. Louis HELP to help people in need as I am. I could never afford this equipment and Medicare won’t pay for it. Thank you.”
Jeff D., age 64: “My daughter fractured her hip when she fell while jogging. The wheelchair we got from St. Louis HELP speeded her recovery. Thank you St. Louis HELP!”
Christine N., age 70: “Thanks to you I have a lift chair and bedside commode. With these I am able to get up and go the bathroom like a human being. Thank you so very much!”
Rachel V., age 55: “The wheelchair you loaned me is in beautiful condition. Yesterday was the first day in weeks that I left my house for anything other than a doctor’s appointment. With deep gratitude for St. Louis HELP.”
Marion Y., age 75: “I was given a power wheelchair by your organization that I am sure will become more helpful to me, helping my self confidence and independence. Thank you so much.”
Doug F. and Joyce C., age 56: “After our car accident, St Louis HELP provided us with all of the equipment we needed. We love our friends at St. Louis HELP for all you do!”
Laura says, “People donate used home health equipment to us or make a financial donation because they know it will help a sick child, a senior citizen, a cancer patient or people with disabilities.
“That’s why we collect and loan items throughout the year, and we conduct area-wide equipment donation drives twice a year — our next equipment donation drive is Saturday, May 14. Our volunteers will accept equipment donations at 14 designated Walgreens parking lots in metro St. Louis, St. Charles and Belleville, Illinois, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“We hope people will clean out their attics or basements and bring their old healthcare items to us.
“We collect about 11,000 items of donated equipment annually. We revitalize or recycle it all. Good parts of broken equipment are used for repairs. Any broken wooden crutches are recycled to a wood chipper. Nothing is wasted.”
Charity begins at home:
Charitable service runs in Laura’s family. Her husband, Michael Singer, is Director of Advancement and Gift Planning at Great Circle, a not-for-profit behavioral health organization based in St. Louis that provides counseling, crisis programs, support, and care to children and families in time of struggle.
Laura met Michael soon after she founded St. Louis HELP and was contacting various nonprofit organizations for advice about managing her own. Michael answered the phone when she called Great Circle. Today, he is a St. Louis HELP board member.
Laura’s daughter, Kelsey, helped Laura start the organization when mother and daughter worked together in their garage in 2008. These days, Kelsey is one of St. Louis HELP’s busiest volunteers.
“Our equipment helps people feel comfortable. It enables mobility, supports their independence and it also helps ease the stress on caregivers,” Laura says.
“And it saves them money!
“Even for people with insurance, many home health items are not covered. More than ten years ago Medicare/Medicaid stopped covering items for the shower — one of the most dangerous places for someone with mobility issues. Our shower equipment is in high demand, and so are hospital beds and oversized wheelchairs.
“We assist hundreds of people every month,” Laura says. ““Calls to our warehouse for equipment loans are increasing — In 2015, requests for free loans of our home medical equipment increased 21.1 percent over those in 2014.”
“We constantly look for donations of new and previously used home health equipment and, yes, financial donations.”
All donations of home health equipment and any financial donations to St. Louis HELP are tax deductible. Equipment that cannot legally be re-used in the U.S., such as catheter tubing, needles and prosthetics, is sent to international relief agencies that recondition and distribute such equipment in needy countries.
“When people come to our warehouse for one item they may leave with several items,” Laura says. “Some people need two pieces of the same equipment — one for their house and one at a relative’s house. One way or another, we accommodate them all.
“Every person that comes to us has a story — about their illness, their child’s accident, their father’s bad back, or their mother’s surgery, their daughter-in-law’s cancer, and some conditions we’ve never heard of.
“It is meaningful to know that, in our small way, we are helping to change peoples’ lives for the better and keeping tons of equipment out of landfills,” Laura says.
In August 2014, St. Louis HELP received a prestigious “Point of Light Award” from Points of Light, the national volunteer management organization founded in 1990 in response to President George Bush’s call for volunteer community service.
To borrow revitalized home health equipment from St. Louis HELP or donate used home health items, call 314.567.4700. Please see the website http://www.stlhelp.org.