Norwich - Three years ago, when someone came to Phil Pavone's A-Z Pawn shop on East Main Street wanting to sell a wheelchair, the owner declined, thinking, "What am I going to do with that?"
It didn't take long for Pavone to answer his own question, and now Pavone has launched his third annual wheelchair and scooter drive, adding the all-important batteries to the collection in an effort to provide "the gift of mobility" to two dozen or more recipients throughout the region.
Three years ago, Pavone bought and donated eight wheelchairs and scooters. As word about the drive spread, he sought letters of application last year and again sought donations of chairs. He ended up distributing nearly 30 chairs.
This year, Pavone again expanded the program, called "Change a Life Giveaway," working with four local radio stations owned by Hall Communications - WICH-1310 AM, WCTY-97.7 FM, WNLC-98.7 FM and KOOL-101 FM - to seek application letters and donations of wheelchairs, scooters, batteries and offers to buy batteries.
Pavone said he doesn't want to handle the cash, but instead would ask donors to write checks directly to a Manchester wheelchair battery company that has offered to sell them at wholesale cost.
A week prior to the planned Dec. 22 distribution day, Pavone will review all the applications and the specifications of the donated chairs and scooters to try to match specific disability needs to the equipment. For example, people who can't move one or both arms might need a chair operated with an air tube control. Some people need chairs hand controls or with motorized seat lifts.
"It's really hard to pick," he said. "Some of the stories are just heartbreaking and bring tears to your eyes."
He recalled a woman who had cancer and couldn't get out of bed to go to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. Her chair provided her at least that much mobility until she died several months later.
Through running the wheelchair drive, Pavone said he learned that it's the working poor who are most in need. Those with government medical coverage get chairs, as do those with very good private insurance. Those in between face costs of about $3,000 for a basic chair to $20,000 or more for specialized chairs, he said.
"I never realized the extent of (the need) before," he said.