SEQUIM — Mission work continues from afar for members of Dungeness Community Church despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since December, Rosalie DiMaggio, a retired catering chef, has organized an effort to bring wheelchairs and other medical equipment such as crutches and walkers to residents in Guatemala.
So far, she and program organizers have received more than 40 wheelchairs, 100 walkers and dozens of crutches and canes in various shapes, condition and styles. DiMaggio said volunteers will pick up items from Port Angeles to Port Townsend.
Now DiMaggio and other church members are turning to the community for more donations to help bring mobility back to people thousands of miles away.
Dungeness Community Church’s missionaries were planning to go March 28 last year to Chimaltenango, west of Guatemala City, but the pandemic shut down those plans, DiMaggio said.
Through nonprofit missionary group Bethel Ministries International, she learned about sending relief through wheelchairs.
“They suggested we send wheelchairs (instead of a missionary team), and I thought, ‘Oh, we can do that,’ ” DiMaggio said.
She connected with another nonprofit, Mission Mobility, which gathers and ships wheelchairs to Guatemala for Bethel Ministries to distribute. Once DiMaggio and fellow volunteers can fill a 40-foot container with wheelchairs, Mission Mobility’s team will ship it at no cost, DiMaggio said.
Support has come in many forms, from fellow church and community members, such as Vern Frykholm and Ryan Schaafsma at All Safe Storage, which is donating space, to Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County, which is donating equipment, and church members in various capacities with donations and/or volunteer time.
But to fill a 40-foot container, DiMaggio and volunteers estimate they’ll need many more wheelchairs and other mobility-related medical equipment before sending it all south.
How to help
Those with wheelchairs, canes, crutches and/or walkers can call Dungeness Community Church at 360-683-7333 to schedule a pickup or drop-off at the church, 45 Eberle Lane.
Donors also can drop off items at the church, she said.
According to its website, Bethel Ministries International distributes more than 1,300 repaired wheelchairs each year through monthly distribution activities.
“Each chair is custom fit for every person, and they work with families to make it work,” DiMaggio said.
A team of Guatemalans, many in wheelchairs too, run a shop to refurbish donated items, Bethel reports on its website.
“They accept any condition because the local people repair equipment like leather and wood and wheels,” DiMaggio said.
“People don’t need to even give matching crutches because they’ll make it work.”
Who it helps
People in need of a wheelchair or equipment to help them walk vary in health and age, Bethel’s website says.
“It’s really a service for anyone of all ages, and men and women,” DiMaggio said.
“People are born with birth defects, there are a lot of diabetics and people hurt by violence (who need wheelchairs).”
She said people who can’t be mobile are sometimes set aside or cannot be supported simply because they are poor.
“I’ve seen pictures of a father carrying a child on a chair wrapped with rope,” DiMaggio said.
Taking on this mission has expanded her idea of how people can help, she said.
“It’s supporting a great need,” DiMaggio said.
“People are just weeping when their children are finally comfortable. It helps parents a lot.”
Just prior to when the container is ready to ship, DiMaggio plans to gather nonperishable food to send with the wheelchairs and other supplies.
“It’s during the pandemic, so they need more food, too,” she said.
For more information on Bethel Ministries International, visit bethelministriesinternational.com.
For more on Mission Mobility, visit missionmobility.org.
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].