Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Project MEND, which distributes donated wheelchairs and other medical equipment to people in need, announced plans Tuesday to construct a new $3.2 million, 18,000-square-foot facility at the South Texas Medical Center.
The nonprofit, which is marking its 25th year in operation, refurbishes donated wheelchairs, walkers, transfer benches, and other durable medical equipment and provides them at minimal cost. Project MEND has provided adaptive medical equipment to more than 20,000 residents of San Antonio and the surrounding areas.
The new facility will be the second largest medical equipment reuse facility in the United States and the largest in Texas, said Project MEND CEO Cathy Valdez.
To construct the new facility, Project MEND has raised just over $2 million in funding from organizations including the Kronkosky Foundation, the Najim Family Foundation, and Bexar County Commissioners Court.
At a press conference announcing the new facility, philanthropist Harvey Najim said that when he heard there had been calls to Project MEND from more than 270 people needing wheelchairs this past May, “it was obvious [more space was needed] to expand services.”
“We are proud to help increase support [for people with disabilities] who face economic challenges, homelessness, and lack of insurance,” Najim said.
Tullos Wells, managing director of the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, said the organization would put in an additional $250,000 as a challenge grant, as Project MEND works to secure the remaining funds.
The expansion will allow Project MEND to accept more donations and take in larger pieces of equipment, including stair and vehicle lifts for which there is no space at the organization’s facility in Government Hill, she said.
“In the past, we have had to turn down equipment we [didn’t] have space for, but we can say yes to those kinds of donations going forward,” she said.
Project MEND, now located at 1201 Austin St., will operate both its warehouse and administrative center at its soon-to-be constructed Medical Center location in a deal made with local development firm GrayStreet Partners. The firm acquired the adjacent 23-acre property, formerly San Antonio ISD’s Ben Milam Elementary School, in July 2017 and was looking to buy surrounding lots.
After approaching Project MEND to purchase its property, GrayStreet Partners found the nonprofit was looking for a new location to expand its services, said Peter French, the firm’s development director. GrayStreet purchased the Austin Street property and donated 3 acres of property in the Medical Center, French said.
“After learning more about [Project MEND’s] mission, we were proud to be in a position to help them expand to serve more people in need,” French said.
Valdez said the larger property means the nonprofit will be able to provide services to more people with mobility issues, because in addition to increased storage space, volunteers will have more room to repair, refurbish, and sanitize the donated equipment.
“We don’t keep a waiting list,” Valdez said. “If someone calls asking about [specific equipment], if we don’t have it, instead we ask people to call every week because our donation of medical equipment changes on a daily basis.”
Valdez said the organization serves about 1,500 people per year and supplies about 3,000 separate pieces of medical equipment.
In addition to the medical equipment re-use program, the organization provides funding for mobility assistance equipment that is not available in the organization’s donated inventory at the time it is needed, such as stair lifts and specialized wheelchairs.
“Medical equipment is expensive, and often medical equipment is not covered by insurance,” Valdez said. “That is a big reason why Project MEND is so important.
“Plus, we are able to refurbish it, keeping out of landfills and other places people try to dump it. There is a lot of re-use [opportunity] for medical equipment, and we can give it a new life.”