Volunteers build carts for people who cannot walk
By Catherine Ferguson, SNJM
In 2005 Dick Carpenter read a newspaper article that changed the lives of thousands of people throughout the world.
He learned about a project in Florida for making hand propelled carts which served as transport for people who could not walk because of war or disease. These carts provided mobility for leg-disabled persons who crawl on the ground without them. Cart recipients are too poor to afford them or other means of transport.
The first years of the similar project he founded here in the Inland Northwest were described in a Fig Tree article in 2005.
Much has stayed the same since then but much has also changed. The operation has grown bigger in many ways.
Then, a small number of volunteers from Colbert Presbyterian Church made the carts. Now the production team includes 73 volunteer men and women who produce about 70 carts each quarter to ship to different parts of the world.
An assembled rainbow freedom cart is taken apart and packed with tools and instructions for reassembly at its destination in one of 103 countries to transport disabled men and women. Each 80-pound cart is packed into a large box sealed with steel tape. Sixty-nine boxes are shipped via the generosity of Peninsula Truck Lines of Spokane to World Vision in Seattle. Solid green wheels take seven months to be shipped from China. They first used tires with inner tubes and sent pumps, but some people took them for other uses, and the carts became useless.
Then, they were called PET carts because they were associated with the PET Project located in Missouri. Now they are an independent nonprofit organization, called the Inland Northwest Trinity Project.
This month, a shipment of 70 carts left Dick's shop on the Little Spokane River via Peninsula Truck Lines to be delivered to World Vision in Seattle and from there to El Salvador, Senegal and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland).
In early days, Dick had to ship the carts to California. The project paid $10,000 for each shipment. Once there, he had to identify where they needed to go and then do the customs paperwork required to ship them.
Now, NW Trinity Project partners with World Vision, which identifies needy recipients around the world, sees to the paperwork to ensure they can be sent safely and ensures the persons who need them receive them.
"World Vision has been such a blessing to us. Without this connection we would not be able to get so many carts to people who need them," explained Joe Kramarz, one of the volunteer painters of "rainbow freedom carts."
Although it is rare for them to hear from recipients directly, after 17 years of the project, they have many success stories to tell.
In a photo posted on the shop wall, one recipient shows how he altered his cart, making it into a little shop where he could sell small items to the people in the area. From being a burden to his family, he was transformed into a bread winner.
In Africa, the people used to take a woman to church in a wheelbarrow. Once she had a cart, she was able to begin participating in the church's sewing project. Now she runs the project.
In another situation, a mother used to have to carry her son on her back whenever he needed to go somewhere. When he got a cart, both the mother and son were relieved of that burden.
Not all the stories are about success: "Over the years we had a tragic event. We had shipped 40 carts to Ethiopia, but those who had to clear them for distribution wanted a bribe. Our agents refused to give them the bribe and so they burned the 40 carts. That's the worst thing that ever happened," said Dick.
How have they continued for so long and grown so much?
"We have a great team," replied Dick, identifying many of the companies who help their project with donations.
Joe, Maurice Feryn and Ron Bohman, the volunteers working in the shop during the interview, explained that even though they don't often hear back from cart recipients to know how much they mean to them, they do this work for Jesus.
The project exemplifies Margaret Mead's insight: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has."