CINDEE TANUMA, executive director of Community Caregivers and The Loaner’s Closet, has a not-so-private joke with Donna Kluk, her Closet manager. “We’ll have an odd piece of equipment come in, and Donna will ‘bury’ it,” Tanuma said with a chuckle.
“And all of a sudden, somebody will want it,” Kluk chimed in.
The Loaner’s Closet makes sure they get it. The nonprofit organization, recently relocated to Derry, provides gently used durable medical equipment at no cost to members of the community. It’s a triple win for borrowers, givers and staff.
As she led a tour of the new digs in the basement of an historic brick building, Tanuma explained that the organization receives most of its donations from people who have been where the recipients are, and sometimes recently. “We’ll have, say, the widow of a man with a painful cancer who came home to spend his final days.” Their house is filled with equipment, some paid for by the Veterans Administration, some by the state or Medicare. “When he dies, she wants to get rid of the pieces — they remind her of his illness,” Tanuma explained. People in that situation donate the pieces to The Loaner’s Closet, for others to borrow, and they have the peace of mind of knowing that the equipment is being put to good use.
“These pieces have nine lives,” Tanuma said.
The most frequently requested items from The Loaner’s Closet are bathroom seats, bed assist rails, canes, crutches, “gait belts,” grabbers, knee scooters, manual and transport wheelchairs, raised toilet seats, transfer benches, versa frames and walkers.
“We have 15,000 pieces of equipment,” she said.
Try before you buy
The patient or a loved one can request an appointment to look over the selection, according to Tanuma.
Kluk gave an example. “Do they need a shower chair with a back or without one? Should it fit inside their tub? How much do they weigh?”
People want to test the equipment for their needs, Tanuma said. “They’ll try out a Hurricane cane, a four-prong cane, a standard cane. They’ll want to try two or three elevated toilet seats.”
Tanuma ran her hand over a knee scooter. “These,” she said, “are absolute gold.” They work for people wanting to move independently in their own home, and also for those who need to get back to work, she observed.
Tanuma and Kluk field 60 to 70 calls a week. In 2020 they served 87 New Hampshire communities, including people from as far away as Lyme, Berlin and Lebanon, as well as 45 Massachusetts towns. They don’t look at your zip code or your bank account, Tanuma said.
Sharing what they know
While the agency doesn’t have room for larger pieces like Hoyer lifts or hospital beds, they keep a database of people wanting to donate large equipment. “When someone calls, we can give them a lead on who has a hospital bed or a stairlift,” Tanuma said.
They also accept consumables such as unused adult diapers and unopened energy drinks.
And after years of practice, Tanuma’s staff members know exactly what their clients will need. “Someone will call and say, ‘I’m having a knee operation. Do you know what’s on the list?’ and we can say, ‘Yes, we do.’”
Growing to meet demand
Community Caregivers has been in the Derry area since 1988 and Tanuma has been with them since 2004. The Loaner’s Closet precedes her by two years. At the time, Caregivers rented space from the Masonic Temple on East Broadway. They stored equipment donations in a back room. They obtained a grant to rent another room at the Masonic Temple for a year, and the donation piece of the agency grew. They moved to Londonderry in 2004 and equipment continued to come in. “We were tripping over ourselves,” Tanuma said. They didn’t start itemizing donations until 2008. In October they moved into the West Broadway site, which has given them room to spread out. They have 4,400 square feet, she said, compared to 1,265 in Londonderry.
The agency closed for one day during the pandemic, but was deemed essential and reopened with a staggered shift. Tanuma worked from home, Office Manger Julie Levesque came in from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Kluk took the noon to 3 slot. “People still needed us,” Tanuma said simply.
They are still conscious of the virus and invested funds from two grants in a Hubscrub, a powerful sanitizer. “The great thing about Hubscrub,” Tanuma said, “is that it runs for six minutes and only uses 4 gallons of water.” Every piece of equipment that circulates passes through Hubscrub, the women said.
Tanuma and her staff are also aware of the fragility of the earth, and they make sure each piece has as many lives as it can, to help as many people as it can. Two volunteer mechanics come in to fix brakes on wheelchairs and scooters, and Kluk has become something of a mechanic herself, watching YouTube videos on how to repair equipment. The new facility has a workbench, Tanuma pointed out.
“And,” she said, “we keep some stuff for parts.”
They often become overstocked with a particular item, and will pass them on to several other agencies. Nu Day Syria, also based in Derry, will come in once a month to take breathing equipment and medical supplies. Encompass Health of Concord, a rehabilitation facility, recently took 15 walkers and 15 sets of crutches for its clients. Tanuma calls them “overstock partners,” and is looking for more.
Any irreparable piece is scavenged for parts and then passed on to a junk metal recycler, according to Tanuma. But many of those sources won’t take a small load. “I am looking for more junk metal guys to take smaller loads,” she said.
More “overstock partners” is at the top of Tanuma’s wish list for the next five years.
“We burn them out pretty quickly,” Kluk contributed.
And they’ll never lose sight of their mission, connecting people with the resources they need.
“I train my staff to make eye contact with every client,” Tanuma said, adding, “We want to hear their story.”