A Caring Closet in Vancouver, WA, is a nonprofit that provides gently used durable medical equipment (DME) such as wheelchairs, hospital beds, walkers and bath benches to anyone who needs it, free of charge. And they welcome donations of equipment that people no longer need.
“Our goal is to make the process of finding needed medical equipment easy and rehoming it simple too,” says Sara Scheetz, co-founder of A Caring Closet.
“We want to make people’s lives easier when they’re experiencing a difficult time,” adds Jodie Zelazny, the other co-founder. A Caring Closet is a nonprofit, volunteer organization located in Hazel Dell.
Free Medical Equipment in Vancouver Came About Unexpectedly
Both Scheetz and Zelazny’s careers are in the senior care industry: Scheetz as owner and placement agent at Senior Living Locator, and Zelazny as Vancouver relationship manager for Koelsch Communities. Those roles put them in ideal spots to be aware of individuals’ needs for durable medical equipment, as well as excess equipment that is available for rehoming.
“At first we just had a few donated wheelchairs and walkers that fit in a closet,” says Zelazny. As donations of DME continued to flow in, supplies expanded into a garage, then a storage unit, then more storage units. Finally, it became clear to the women that a dedicated facility was needed to collect and store the supplies and offer them to the public. A Caring Closet was officially launched in 2015 and became a 501(c)(3) in 2016.
The organization has been situated at several locations around Vancouver since then, most times moving because they outgrew their space. In August 2023, they relocated to a 4,000-square-foot warehouse where they have plenty of room to grow, and plenty of parking, with space to receive deliveries. “We hope that this will be our forever home,” says Scheetz.
Vancouver Nonprofit for Durable Medical Equipment
Getting the word out about the organization’s services was a challenge at first, but not anymore, says Scheetz. “We’re surprised and gratified that people are recommending our services via social media channels like Facebook and Nextdoor, and we love how organically the organization is growing,” she adds.
“If someone is ready to be discharged from the hospital to an adult family home, whether a hospital bed is available or not may mean the difference between them staying another night in the hospital or getting settled in their new place,” says Scheetz. “We can often provide that hospital bed.”
Now, Scheetz and Zelazny get queries from other groups, even out-of-state groups, asking for advice on launching similar services. And what do they tell them? “Don’t do it the way we did it,” they say, laughing.
“First, be prepared for how much time it’s going to take to get things organized and off the ground,” says Scheetz. “Get your volunteer team lined up ahead of time and decide on your hours. And don’t feel like you need to have your own space right away. It’s fine to be housed in a church or a similar location at the beginning, and to start out small.”
Volunteering Opportunities in Vancouver, WA at A Caring Closet
The organization currently has between 17 and 20 volunteers and is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“Our volunteers are the absolute best, and many of them come every day we’re open, for all three hours,” says Zelazny. “With more volunteers, we could be open more days, for longer hours, but we want to be sure that expanding our hours is sustainable before we make that commitment.”
The average age of A Caring Closet volunteer is 75. Most are retired, and many have experienced health crises or deaths of loved ones themselves. “Visiting our facility can be emotional if you’re in the middle of a difficult situation, and our volunteers can relate, commiserate, and empathize,” says Scheetz.
But no matter what your age or talents, the organization is sure to have a volunteer opportunity for you.
A Caring Closet receives no government funding and depends entirely on fundraising events, grants, and donations to finance expenses. They hold a “Whiskey, Wine, and Wheelchairs” fundraiser in February, and their “Country Financial Golf Tournament,” which benefits the organization, is in September every year.
“We are really excited about a grant we received from Area Agencies on Aging in 2020 that financed our new automated inventory system,” says Zelazny. “Information about our inventory is right at our fingertips now, and we can access it anytime, from anywhere. Previously, everything was on paper.”
A Caring Closet is a labor of love, the founders agree, and the grateful people who visit the warehouse make their volunteer efforts especially rewarding. “People who need medical equipment are so relieved to find what they need, cost-free. And people donating equipment often comment on how happy their parent or spouse would be to know that the items will be happily rehomed and appreciated,” says Scheetz.
A Caring Closet
7500 NE 16th Avenue, Suite 1C, Vancouver