Guilford, CT: Gwen Fletcher and Dottie Volosin
Gwen Fletcher and Dottie Volosin
Volunteers, Charlie’s Closet
Tours of historic Guilford usually take in the town’s numerous antique buildings. Gwen Fletcher and Dottie Volosin give a different kind of tour, a narrated medical life of their town: “A young man in that Cape cares for his mother and needed a hospital bed… We delivered a scooter there [pointing to a white Colonial]. The woman takes it all the way downtown! … We brought a wheelchair to the woman who lives in that house. She broke her foot at church…”
Gwen and Dottie will humbly tell you they’re just drivers. These longtime volunteers for Charlie’s Closet, part of an interfaith service organization, accept donations of used medical equipment and dispense it to those in need. They fetch, sort, and deliver a full gamut of rehabilitative aids, all donated: walkers, scooters, shower seats, canes, wheelchairs, commodes, hospital beds, and more.
Often, what’s needed as much as the equipment is the simple human connection. On one recent call, Dottie pulled up in front of a brown ranch. Inside, an elderly wife accepted a shower chair for her husband. “He’s got congestive heart failure,” the woman began. Dottie listened while she adjusted the seat’s height to fit the man. “People themselves may not know that they need to talk,” she says. “There’s relief in telling their story.” The women sometimes serve as grief counselors; other times they linger to chat with elderly people or their caregivers. On their travels, they spread compassion and companionship along with the much-needed medical supplies.
Charlie’s Closet has seen demand mushroom in recent years. As life expectancy increases, people want to remain in their homes with their families, but insurance policies don’t always cover all equipment, “especially specialized rehabilitative items,” Gwen explains. “Conditions tend to deteriorate more quickly than according to an insurance timeline.”
“They actually anticipate what I need,” says Peter Coppola, of Guilford. Diagnosed 20 years ago with muscular dystrophy, Coppola has retained mobility thanks to a succession of scooters and wheelchairs delivered by Gwen and Dottie.
Clients purchase each piece of equipment from the Closet for $1. Sometimes it’s not returned; sometimes the “cost” is repaid tenfold. People give more money as their budgets allow, from a $5 bill or a $100 check to gifts-in-kind, which over the years have included handmade birdhouses, wreaths, and fudge.
Gwen and Dottie pride themselves on the wide variety of equipment they can deliver at a morning’s notice. If they don’t have a particular item, they’ll work their connections to find it. In this regard, they believe they’ve enjoyed some divine intervention. “We had a client who had a brain-stem stroke,” recalls Gwen. “He was completely incapacitated and needed a bed, a Hoyer lift, and a special mattress. We didn’t have those things.” A few days passed, and a call came from a group of nuns in the area, donating exactly the items needed. “It tells us we’re not alone,” chuckles Dottie. “We tend to have miraculously good timing.”
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