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New store in Spokane selling refurbished medical equipment to help those in need

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 28, 2017

Michele Finlayson talks about Donor Closet,  a new nonprofit store in Spokane, on Thursday, Nov.16, 2017. The store is refurbishing medical equipment such as wheelchairs and hospital beds to sell at more affordable prices. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Michele Finlayson talks about Donor Closet, a new nonprofit store in Spokane, on Thursday, Nov.16, 2017. The store is refurbishing medical equipment such as wheelchairs and hospital beds to sell at more affordable prices. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Getting a wheelchair or power scooter can be an expensive proposition for people who need help getting around.

Medical mobility devices often cost a few thousand dollars, and insurance doesn’t always cover them.

But a new store in Spokane is hoping to change that by offering at-cost refurbished medical equipment.

Called Donor Closet, the store offers everything from power scooters and wheelchairs to hospital beds for much less than standard retail prices. It’s run by volunteers who repair and test equipment on-site. A three-wheel power scooter was priced at $500, though that’s just a suggested donation.

“I’ve seen a lot of people who don’t have it or don’t know where to get it or that it even exists,” said Tom McNeill, a volunteer who has been living with multiple sclerosis since 2004, about assistive devices and mobility equipment.

The store hopes to be a place where people can donate equipment they no longer need to help others who could still benefit from it.

“A lot of times people can’t get rid of it in a garage sale and don’t know what to do with it,” said Michele Finlayson, co-manager of the Spokane store.

Donor Closet is a project of the nonprofit Multiple Sclerosis Helping Hands, which is already operating stores in Edmonds and Tacoma.

The founder, Bill Brayer, was living with MS and looking for a way to make use of some lightly used medical equipment someone donated to him.

Spokane’s store is located at 3203 North Market St., a site chosen in part for its accessibility. It is on the same block as a bus stop, is not far off Interstate 90 and has a large parking lot where people can test equipment out before taking it home.

Soon, Donor Closet will have a large van allowing the store to deliver items to people’s homes or do pick-ups for larger donations.

MS is an autoimmune disease that can manifest in dozens of different ways. Some people struggle with muscle control and mobility as the disease attacks the central nervous system. Other people have fatigue, vision problems or pain.

Finlayson, a physical therapist who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001, said the plethora of possible symptoms can make it difficult for people with MS to predict needs for medical equipment, which makes Donor Closet an especially useful resource.

Her MS primarily causes fatigue and doesn’t affect her mobility. Other volunteers, like McNeill, use wheelchairs to get around.

The store’s offerings include crutches, wheelchair ramps, commodes, transport chairs and more. It’s not limited to any particular diagnosis or condition, though people who only need equipment temporarily are encouraged to return it so someone else can put it to use.

“This is an offering for anybody who needs equipment for any reason,” Finlayson said.“We don’t ask. We don’t care.”

Finlayson hopes she’ll be able to serve customers by talking about their needs and helping them fit crutches, chairs or other devices.

“With my background in physical therapy, this is sort of my wheelhouse,” she said.

The Spokane store got its start through Walking on Sunshine, a local MS support group started by McNeill’s wife, Linda. She serves as the store’s other co-manager.

MS is especially prevalent in the Pacific Northwest, for reasons no one is quite sure of. Linda McNeill said Spokane has a handful of neurologists who specialize in MS, and they’re constantly busy.

“They are overwhelmed with patients,” she said.

Finlayson’s sons have enjoyed helping out around the store, though she said that mostly means taking the power chairs out into the parking lot to make sure they’ll go fast.

The McNeills are hoping to get their daughter, an Eastern Washington University student, to volunteer. Tom McNeill joked he would probably have to lure her with the promise of $20, though he said he had no intention of actually coming through with the money.

“I think it’s great. People can come in and get what they need,” McNeill said.

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