Published December 23. 2012 4:00AM
Michelle Brunelle of Plainfield first heard about the electric wheelchair giveaway on her favorite country music station.
She knew it was the perfect thing for her elderly mother, who has a hard time getting around the house and frequently falls.
Brunelle made some calls. And on Saturday, she accompanied her mother to the A-Z Pawn Shop in Norwich, where shop owner Phil Pavone was delivering some of the 25 chairs he had prepared for this year's giveaway, the third year for the charitable program he started.
"It's gorgeous," said Gaetane Brunelle of Plainfield, who got instructions from Pavone on how to operate the chair before it was loaded in the back of a truck, with her daughter proudly watching.
"I don't walk much, but when I do, I tend to fall, and everyone comes to my rescue," said Gaetane Brunelle, who smiled and demurred when asked her age.
"This will really help when I am out of the house on road trips," she said.
Gaetane Brunelle also collected a big holiday hug from Pavone when she climbed out of the chair and back into the passenger seat of the family pickup that was going to take her and her new vehicle home.
Pavone was closely supervising the chair giveaway Saturday in the pawn shop parking lot on East Main Street, holding a composition notebook with pages of all the names of people who had called to reserve chairs. On one end of the lot, the reconditioned chairs were lined up and waiting, numbers on the seat denoting the names of the new owners.
Pavone, along with some other volunteers, was also busy giving "driving" lessons in the lot to the new chair owners.
Pavone calls the program "Change a Life Giveaway" and organizes donations of chairs, batteries and money to buy batteries. He has also been coordinating the program with local radio stations to increase donations and make people aware that the chairs are available.
Many of those picking up chairs Saturday were elderly; he was planning to deliver a chair to a woman in a nursing home later in the day. But younger, disabled people also receive them, Pavone said.
Pavone said most people who ask for the chairs do not qualify for them with either government or private health insurance.
"A lot of the people who need them are the working poor," he said. "They fall between the cracks.
"It's great to help them."