Knights of Columbus donate wheelchairs to organizations across state

Partnership with American Wheelchair Mission assists veterans, seniors and the infirm

By Andy Telli

Knights of Columbus in East and Middle Tennessee have received a shipment of 114 wheelchairs they are distributing to nursing homes, adult day-care centers, veterans groups and others.

The latest shipment is the sixth the Tennessee Knights have distributed in partnership with the American Wheelchair Mission. Three of the shipments have been delivered to Tennessee, two to Mexico and one to the Holy Land, said Bill Wicke, of Knoxville, a former state deputy of the Knights in Tennessee and coordinator of the wheelchair program in the state.

“We have so far shipped 1,334,” Mr. Wicke said.

Included in the latest shipment were 12 wheelchairs donated by Council 3537 and Fourth Degree Assembly 2328, both at Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksville, to the new Wendell J. Gilbert Tennessee State Veterans Home in Clarksville near the Fort Campbell Army base.

The 108-bed nursing facility opened in November and will serve an area with one of the largest concentrations of veterans in the country.

Council 9282 at St. Stephen Catholic Community in Hermitage, recently donated four wheelchairs to Catholic Charities’ Adult Day Care program.

In Bristol, the Knights have donated about 40 wheelchairs to Honor Flight of Northeast Tennessee, which arranges visits to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., for World War II veterans.

“A lot of the guys are 90 and older and not as mobile as they used to be,” Mr. Wicke said.

The Knights still have several wheelchairs available to be donated, he said. For information about securing one, call Mr. Wicke at 865-566-3840.

Since the program began in Tennessee in 2008, the Knights have distributed wheelchairs to 93 parishes from Memphis to Johnson City, Mr. Wicke said, as well as veterans homes and cemeteries.

“It’s certainly not as widespread as we’d like,” Mr. Wicke said.

The wheelchairs are non-motorized but are made with a sturdy, yellow frame. The Knights of Columbus has partnered with the American Wheelchair Mission to provide wheelchairs to those in need in the United States and abroad.

The wheelchairs are shipped in the United States in minimum lots of 110, which costs $16,500 or $150 per chair. If the Knights can raise $21,000 for a shipment of 280 wheelchairs overseas, American Wheelchair secures a matching grant, bringing the cost to the Knights down to $75 per chair, Mr. Wicke explained.

Knights councils and assemblies across the state hold a variety of fundraisers for the program, including concerts, spaghetti suppers and a poker tournament hosted by the St. Stephen council, he said.

Some councils collect donations to the program with their dues and others simply budget an annual donation to the program, he added.

The money is collected by the Tennessee State Council, and when it has enough to buy a shipment Mr. Wicke makes arrangements for the shipment with American Wheelchair Mission.

The next overseas shipment is scheduled to be sent to Mexico this month, Mr. Wicke noted.

Many of the recipients overseas are homebound before they receive their wheelchair, he said, adding that “a lot of the recipients are literally carried from their beds.”

When he traveled to Mexico City with one shipment, Mr. Wicke said, “virtually everyone you help into a wheelchair will be crying because they know they now will be mobile.”

Without that mobility, many are cut off from their communities, he added.

On Mr. Wicke’s visit to the Holy Land to deliver wheelchairs, two recipients were elderly women who had survived the concentration camp at Auschwitz, he said, adding that helping the women into their wheelchairs “was the most moving thing I’ve ever done.” ■

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