The Care Closet Story
The Care Closet has a long history, starting when Vashon Island Fire and Rescue had such a closet about ten years ago. When that Closet program closed, many noted its absence. In 2012, the Vashon Home Care Network, a coalition of private caregivers, started collecting and lending donated items helpful during a period of convalescence, ranging from commodes and shower chairs to walkers and personal care products. The items were stored at Island Funeral Service. In 2017, the Vashon Lutheran Church generously donated space for storage of Care Closet items in a room that sees much action as donated items recycle in and out to families and individuals.
Along the way, the needs of Vashon residents who wish to stay in their own homes as they age and become frail has increased dramatically. In response to almost daily requests for experienced caregivers and equipment and supplies, the Vashon Care Network, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was founded in November 2018. The mission is to provide support to Islanders through coordination and distribution of physical resources and networking with community services and individuals. The Care Closet has been adopted as one of the projects of the Network. As the Closet has steadily grown, gaining volunteers, donors and requests, we identified a need for specialized equipment and simple home improvements to enable individuals to stay safely in their own homes.
Our growing aging population (Vashon median age is 52.3 with 36% aged 60 and over), the demise of skilled nursing at VCC and more families not able to afford specialized services, all contribute to an expanding need for medical supplies, equipment and care at home.
The Care Network receives at least 100 calls per month, between individuals looking for caregiving support and those needing care closet items. Examples of free, donated items given away include gait belts, commodes, shower chairs, crutches, wheelchairs, walkers, knee scooters, incontinent supplies and hospital beds. Providence Home Health Clinicians contact the Network weekly to help clients in need of supplies as they are recovering from some type of medical set back or injury. It is worth noting that individuals often need equipment quickly and can’t get off-Island to secure what they need.
Although the bulk of our donations for the Care Closet come from in-kind contributions, rather than monetary donations, there are requests that can’t be filled through current Care Closet resources or donations. Some low-income families need help with things we have not in the past been able provide but are now working to begin providing as the Vashon Care Network grows its organization and connections to other service groups on the island:
installation of shower bars in a bathroom
building a simple ramp indoors
electrical help, plumbing help, minor construction to help keep them safer in their homes
larger outdoor ramps
carpet cleaning services
specialized equipment like adapted wheelchairs, hoyer lifts, hospital beds (NOTE: approximate cost for a hospital bed or a hoyer: $1,000 or more; specialized wheel chairs: $100 – 500)
Over the twelve-month period from November 2019 to October 2020, based on current requests, we estimate that we will receive at least 800 requests for medical equipment, supplies and small home construction projects.
Through the Care Closet, the Care Network enables families to donate and recycle equipment and supplies after it is no longer needed. Fueled by the solid communication and good will of Island caregivers, friends, faith groups and in partnership with other nonprofits, we are able to meet the great majority of needs of low-income, isolated individuals and families.
Written by Carol Spangler