By TARA MONASTESSE While everyday life for many has seemingly returned to normal in the wake of the pandemic, the increased demand for medical equipment hasn't slowed down. That's why the Robert J. Allen Masonic Medical Distribution Center, located on
While everyday life for many has seemingly returned to normal in the wake of the pandemic, the increased demand for medical equipment hasn’t slowed down.
That’s why the Robert J. Allen Masonic Medical Distribution Center, located on Long Street at the Masonic Youth Park’s second entrance gate, has seen its dedicated group of volunteers maintain their hard efforts to keep up with the pace.
“There are more demands for our service than ever in the past,” said George Donahue, current acting director of the center since 2017. “There are times where we just get inundated.”
Every Friday from 9 a.m. to noon, the center opens its doors to provide medical equipment free of charge to anyone who needs it on a first-come, first-serve basis, no questions asked. During this time, community members can show up freely to access a variety of equipment including wheelchairs, canes, shower seats, transport chairs, walkers and more. The equipment, provided entirely through donations, has seen high demand since the pandemic hit in March of 2020. Before then, the demand for medical beds was low, but Donahue says that virtually all of them are currently being used. While providing a ballpark figure for the center’s weekly traffic is difficult, Donahue asserted that the slack times were much less common than the busy times.
During that same Friday morning timeframe, the center is open to donations of equipment by drop-off, no appointment necessary. Equipment is often provided when surgery patients have recovered and no longer have a use for it, and is borrowed and returned on a regular basis. It is through these donations that the center has thrived, expanding its offerings to provide a large variety of mobility aids for no cost.
“This service is open to all. Any and all can use our facilities, free of charge,” said Donahue.
Volunteers for the program, all members of the Masonic Grand Lodge of Rhode Island, are frequently retired and serve on a part-time basis. During their time at the center on Friday mornings, they work to match new arrivals with equipment and demonstrate how to use it safely. In recent years, the only time the program hasn’t operated was when Christmas or New Year’s Day happened to fall on a Friday. Otherwise, the medical center remains open year round.
Robert J. Allen, who founded the program in 2002, says that the core group of volunteers who work with the center is “pretty smart on it” when it comes to their assistance.
“We thought it was the right thing to do,” said Allen. “A lot of people couldn’t afford it, and they should live with dignity. We charge nothing for whatever we loan.”
While he has stepped back as director, Allen still volunteers regularly at the center. He says that, while the scope of the project has expanded in the last few decades, the mission stays the same – to provide quality medical equipment to those in need who may not be able to otherwise afford it.
Allen, who was a structural engineer for the new Jamestown Bridge, not only has a passion to help people but the tools to put the program together. As the Grand Master of the State Grand Lodge at the time, he advanced the concept of accepting donations of used medical equipment, repairing it if needed and making it available at no charge to those needing it. What he learned is that although insurance covers the cost of some equipment, it leaves patients with having to open their wallets.
Initially, the center operated from tight quarters at the Masonic park and was open weekdays, but Allen learned that was difficult. He designed a mezzanine to accommodate donations, but that, too, was confined. Operations were moved to the garage/warehouse were they are today.
The center depends on donations.
“We don’t buy a thing; we don’t ask anyone for a nickel,” said Allen.
For a while, the center accepted motorized scooters. Donahue explained repairs to the scooters can be complicated. That’s now left to professionals.
While the center’s services remain in high demand due to the pandemic, Allen feels good about how they’ve persevered through the more intense phases.
“We made it. I think we made it through it,” he said.
Allen believes we should all live in dignity.
“It’s not a question of who we are, we’re all brothers,” he said.
The center accepts donations of virtually any equipment, save for stair lifts and electric scooters. For questions about accessing the center or providing a donation, those interested may contact the center at (401) 435-4650 for office or (401) 451-0184 for cell, as well as email@example.com.