Requests for help has ministry looking to expand

·5 min read

Dec. 17—A Joplin ministry that provides medical equipment to those in need is looking to expand its outreach because of growing demand for its services.

The Grace Baptist Church Medical Loan Closet helps with medical equipment needs, both long- and short-term, for items often not covered by insurance. Donated wheelchairs, commodes, shower chairs and benches, walkers, incontinence supplies and even hospital beds are provided free of charge by the closet.

"Sometimes it'll be a wheelchair, and they won't have an insurance-approved reason for a wheelchair, but they can't get out of their house regardless whether it's approved or not," Nicole Watson, founder of the loan closet, said.

Watson started the loan closet out of her garage in the fall of 2020. Working as a registered nurse for Phoenix Home Care and Hospice, she helped set up tube feeding for patients. When some patients wouldn't qualify for the equipment with insurance, she tried to find another way to provide for them.

"Out of frustration, I asked a colleague what to do, and they suggested I refer them to my local loan closet," Watson said. "I didn't know what that was at first, but I found out they had one in Wichita. I thought what a great idea that someone should do, but not me."

Watson sat on the idea for three years, intrigued but worried about the big undertaking. Finally, while attending a service at Grace Baptist Church, she heard the call to start the ministry.

"I came to church one Wednesday night, and my pastor was talking about doing something so big that we couldn't do it, that we had to have God to do it," Watson said. "I was like, this is (the) loan closet. This is something I wouldn't have taken on without that calling."

Launching the closet

Watson approached Grace Baptist Church and partnered with them in the loan closet ministry. COVID-19 slightly delayed her plans, so she started small in her garage. When her first Facebook post advertising the loan closet was shared about 185 times, Watson knew there was a great need in the community.

In May, the loan closet moved to a larger garage in the parking lot of Grace Baptist Church. Donations of medical equipment have poured in from social workers, hospitals, care facilities and individuals. The requests for help have kept pace with donations. November was the loan closet's busiest month, with 65 requests for help. Requests come in from around the region, from Miami, Oklahoma, to Bolivar.

"We've had so many cool stories, where people have been looking for something for a year," Watson said. "We'll have it, and they can come get it here. What a blessing it is for them that they were able to get it. That's happened time and time again, where we know that God is truly in this ministry connecting us."

Watson said the medical need doesn't even have to be long-term. There was a woman who couldn't walk long distances who was able to tour colleges with her son after borrowing a wheelchair, Watson said. She still remembers the woman's gratitude.

The ministry is also free of charge, turning away no one in need. If people aren't able to donate financially, they're asked to help get out the word and let other people know about the mission.

"If people want to make a donation they can, but a lot of times people aren't in the position to do that," Watson said. "We don't want that to prevent them from getting something they need. It's such a blessing to be able to meet people where they're at, during their darkest time, to do something that's simple for us but a huge deal for them."

Although it's called a medical loan closet, there's no immediate need to return the equipment. The name is in honor of a Wichita organization that served as the model, and the equipment is not necessarily a loan in the traditional sense. Watson understands there are many people who need this equipment long-term.

"We would like for the equipment to be returned, but I always tell people the way we loan, it's like loaning a friend money," Watson said. "We don't need it back, but we would like it back."

Future plans

The Grace Baptist Church Medical Loan Closet doesn't turn away donations, either. Anything the medical loan closet can't use, or is too big to store, goes to Fort Smith, Arkansas-based CURE — Compassionate Utilization of Resources — to be shipped overseas and provided to international medical organizations.

As donated walkers and wheelchairs crowd the small garage and requests for help increase, the loan closet needs to expand. Watson's goal for the future of the medical loan closet is to use financial donations to find a larger and more permanent location.

The expanded space would help volunteers organize equipment, market specific equipment and consolidate the organization's storage. In addition to financial donations, there is a great need for volunteers to clean and organize equipment. Watson is facing the growing pains of the ministry with the faith that has guided her this far.

"This is 100% a calling and putting faith in Jesus," Watson said. "If this was just on me, we wouldn't be doing this, because I would have felt I can't do it. If the opportunity is coming, we need to follow it and trust in Christ to catch up to it."

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