Recycling wheelchairs in Mankato

Officials estimate a worldwide need for 65 million wheelchairs.

Posted: Jun. 30, 2018 12:20 PM

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) — The World Health Organization has estimated that there are 65 million people worldwide that need a wheelchair because of a disability but don't have one.

Gregg Olson of Mankato is one of a couple dozen volunteers in Minnesota working to change that need, The Free Press reported.

Olson collects and stores no longer needed wheelchairs on his farm for shipment to countries such as Uganda, El Salvador and Ukraine. He asks nursing homes in the Mankato area if they have any old wheelchairs that are no longer needed.

"When the individual passes away, the family doesn't need them — they don't know what to do with them," Olson said. "They just accumulate."

Olson said the wheelchairs he collects are just as diverse as the people who need them.

"It's amazing the different styles and youth chairs," he said. "There's a need for every single one of them."

Olson said he began collecting the wheelchairs after hearing Joni Eareckson Tada speaking about her charity organization, Joni and Friends. A diving accident in 1967 left her quadriplegic and requiring a wheelchair for mobility.

Minnesota State University graduate Tiffany Carlson also volunteers for the organization.

"I've had 15-20 collapsible wheelchairs and then I can get a lot of walkers in there," Carlson said. "I've gotten several from nursing homes. I contact their maintenance department and ask them if they have any old wheelchairs that nobody is using."

Since being established, Joni and Friends has collected 188,000 wheelchairs; 150,000 were shipped abroad since 1994 with the remainder used for parts. In Minnesota, they plan to collect 5,000 wheelchairs by 2020.

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