ALBANY, N.Y., May 19 (UPI) -- Most thefts of wheelchairs are crimes of opportunity -- a wheelchair is left on a porch and someone takes it -- but some people carefully plan the heist of the more expensive motorized versions.
For example, a woman in Topeka, Kan., padlocked her $9,000 motorized 200-pound wheelchair to a wall on the lowest floor of her apartment building, but thieves cut the lock and are believed to have taken the wheelchair away in a van.
Vicky Bisnett said that after she secured the wheelchair to the wall on the ground floor of her apartment building, she took a chairlift down a short flight of stairs to a manually operated wheelchair, which she used to get to her apartment, reported the Topeka Capital-Journal.
This isn't the first time that a wheelchair has been stolen from Bisnett. In 1989 three manual wheelchairs were taken, which may be some type of record. However, one of the manual wheelchairs was recovered after an article about the theft was published in the Capital-Journal.
Often after a wheelchair theft has been made public, a local business or concerned citizen will donate the money for a new one. However, this is much more difficult for the more expensive, custom motorized wheelchairs.
"It's not as simple as it sounds to get a chair," said Shameeka Lewis, the mother of an Albany, N.Y., boy whose wheelchair was stolen outside his home. "He has to be fitted in that certain chair. It took me about a year to get that chair."
One non-profit organization in Indianapolis has been making an effort to help those whose wheelchairs have been stolen -- or who simply can't afford one.
"'LifeNets: The Wheelchair Project' is a non-profit organization that accepts donated wheelchairs -- we provide the donor with a tax deduction -- and we try to match the chair donation with a person who needs one in the same area," Beverly Kubik told UPI's Caregiving.
"My husband, a Rotarian, took this project over about six years ago after a young man working to become an Eagle Scout had set up it up as a project."
Kubik said the group (lifenets.org/wheelchair) can ship manual wheelchairs within the continental United States, but motorized wheelchairs are heavy and difficult to ship, so they try to connect the donor and the recipient within the same area.
"Some of the wheelchairs donated are very expensive -- one was $17,000 and another was $35,000."
Since The Wheelchair Project has been on the Internet its requests for wheelchairs have outnumbered donations; it has applied to the Christopher Reeve Foundation for a grant to hire part-time help.
Last week a white nondescript trailer that held 20 wheelchairs configured for gym use was stolen from behind the gym at Grace Community Church in Chico, Calif.
The wheelchairs are not suitable for street use because they have wheels that angle in toward the player so they can be controlled with one hand by the Sunshine Kids Club, according to the program's director, Faelin Klein.
Klein, who raises the funds and directs a recreational program for 600 children with and without disabilities, discovered the trailer missing one hour before the children were to play basketball.
"I was so shocked the trailer was missing. The children were crying and really upset. The only thing we could do was try to raise the $42,000 to replace the wheelchairs, but then Tuesday the trailer was discovered -- the padlocks broken but the wheelchairs were fine," Klein told Caregiving.
"I just don't think they knew how to get some money from the wheelchairs so they left it at another church parking lot."
Klein said the wheelchairs were purchased by a grant, but these type of grant for programs of inclusion are very competitive because there are so few funding sources.
"We did apply to the Bubel/Aiken Foundation, which was started by the singer Clay Aiken, because we do exactly what his foundation is all about, but we were told in March that we would hear nothing until December, and I'm not holding my breath," Klein said.
"Here in Northern California there are few foundations that we can seek funding from -- it would be different if we were in Southern California. But the theft of the wheelchairs has resulted in everyone being recharged. The kids are on a high and they are playing their hearts out."
Alex Cukan is an award-winning journalist, but she always has considered caregiving her primary job. UPI welcomes comments and questions about this column. E-mail: email@example.com
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