Bob Thomas stands inside the soon-to-be demolished building that houses the Mount Cheam Lions Club’s Lend/Lease program. (Eric J. Welsh/ Chilliwack Progress)

Bob Thomas stands inside the soon-to-be demolished building that houses the Mount Cheam Lions Club’s Lend/Lease program. (Eric J. Welsh/ Chilliwack Progress)

Chilliwack’s Mount Cheam Lions Club scrambles to save Lend/Lease accessibility equipment program

The club has to move out of the building that has housed the program as it’s slated to be demolished

Chilliwack’s Mount Cheam Lions Club is scrambling to save a program that has helped hundreds of locals lead more independent lives.

For years, the service club has used a small building at Fairfield Island Park to run the Lend/Lease program, taking in donated accessibility equipment and refurbishing it, everything from wheelchairs to bed rails, floor-to-ceiling support poles to shower seats.

But the City of Chilliwack gave the club notice four months ago that they have to vacate the building.

It’s due to be knocked down, along with everything else on the site of the former Chilliwack Safety Village, making way for a new baseball facility.

The Lions Club must be out by the end of March.

Bob Thomas, who heads the Lend/Lease program, has the use of a rented 10×10 storage area for now, but a proper shop will be needed to continue.

“Otherwise it’s over,” he said. “They really don’t want to let this go, but unless we find an alternative (space) we’ll be hard-pressed to keep doing this.”

RELATED: ‘Do our lives count for less?’: COVID-19 exposes cracks in disability aid

It’s been a busy year for the Lend/Lease program, and because of that there actually isn’t a lot to be removed from the building. Thomas said he’s been “cleaned out” during COVID. People have been doing their best to keep elderly relatives at home rather than place them in higher-risk care homes.

“But if you’re going to do that, you need a lot of things,” Thomas said. “Normally I’d have electric wheelchairs and scooters taking up a lot of space, but they’re all gone.”

Last week alone, Thomas sent out an electric wheelchair, a basic wheelchair, two walkers, an eight foot pole and two raised toilet seats.

While it makes for an easier move, it shows the demand that exists for the program.

A man with Multiple Sclerosis recently received a power wheelchair with an elevation feature, valued close to $20,000.

Thomas said that wheelchair was just sitting in someone’s garage for a couple years.

“It’s three or four years old and it was never used, and they didn’t know what to do with it,” he said. “They found out about us and donated it.”

RELATED: Canada home to 6.5 million people with one or more disability

While the program may be called Lend/Lease, Thomas said there’s no charge for people who receive the equipment. They may donate if they wish, but many recipients are struggling to make ends meet, and there has never been any expectation of payment.

“And they can keep the equipment as long as they want,” he added. “Buying this stuff can be out of the question for some people. Even for something simple like a cane, it’s crazy how expensive some of this is.”

Third party insurance will cover some things for some people, but for those not so fortunate.

A program like this is essential, and Thomas would be sad to see it shuttered for a lack of space.

“I took a raised toilet seat to a lady a couple weeks ago,” he said. “She’s 92 and she was so happy to get it I couldn’t get over it. She’d fallen and hurt her hip and couldn’t sit down and get up anymore without pain. Just a simple toilet seat and now she’s so happy.”

The Lions Club is open to paying a little rent for a new space, though funds are especially tight in these COVID-disrupted days.

“We just need the light and room to store things and work on things, and this size of this building (double garage approximately) is ideal,” Thomas said. “Access is important too. Something we can get in and out of easily.”

For more on the Lend/Lease program, visit mountcheamlions.com/lend-lease.html, and if you’re able to help in any way send an email to mtcheamsecretary@gmail.com.


@ProgressSports
eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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