Thousands helped, thanks to one woman’s vision
In 2013, the Lending Cupboard lent out 7,122 pieces of free medical equipment, helping 3,200 clients. The idea behind it all began years before with one hospital bed, provided to Jaqui and Alan Joys when they needed it most.
“When my husband was sick, we couldn’t find a bed for him – we were willing to rent or buy one, but the problem was that we wouldn’t be able to get it soon enough,” says Jaqui Joys, founder of the Lending Cupboard. “I was told to call Fred Kingsmill of Kingsmill Department store in London, Ontario, because he offered free medical equipment for as long as people needed it.”
Kingsmill asked Joys if she believed in miracles, and the next day he provided one when he delivered the much-needed bed. “Fred must have been in his 70s at the time, but he arrived in his old van and came walking up our sidewalk with his cane in one hand and a bed rail in the other,” Joys recalls. Within a couple of hours, the bed was assembled, and Alan used it for the remaining two weeks of his life.
“It was a huge relief to receive that bed, but I don’t think I realized how much it helped until later,” explains Joys. When she realized the impact of Kingsmill’s generosity and kindness, Joys took action. She moved to Red Deer six months after Alan’s death and decided to create two new organizations in Alberta, based on Kingsmill’s model. Once again, the department store owner was a huge source of support, donating 5,000 pounds of equipment to the cause.
Joys established the first organization in southern Alberta. “My husband was from Medicine Hat, and my in-laws were still there, so we started the Alan Joys (AJ’s) Loan Cupboard there in 2003,” she says. “Initially, we ran into a lot of resistance, and we were told that it was an emotional reaction and the organization wouldn’t last.” A partnership with the Medicine Hat Health Region proved to be a valuable connection, and AJ’s Loan Cupboard continues to operate to this day.
When Joys moved to Red Deer, she started a similar organization here. “It was a pretty rocky start in both places, but the more people told me it wouldn’t work, the more I was determined to make it work.” Her tenacity and dedication led Joys to pursue her goal; even though she was employed full time as a physician recruiter for the David Thompson Health Region, she continued to develop the fledgling lending organization, first in her garage and then in the location it has today.
The organization started to receive financial support through church fundraisers, and Joys also pursued non-profit status. At the same time, she began to look for a more appropriate facility. “I had been working with realtors but couldn’t find anything suited to our needs,” she explains. “I saw a ‘For Rent’ sign at what would become our location on 43 Street. Barry White, the building owner, has been our landlord from day one, and he really swooped in like an angel out of nowhere.”
In 2006, the Lending Cupboard moved to its new home on 43 Street and, close to the same time, it officially became a non-profit organization. Within a few months, the David Thompson Health Region connected with the Lending Cupboard to take over the equipment for its hip and knee program. “Things certainly became busier after that, as word spread and more equipment started coming in,” says Joys. “In those days, we didn’t turn anything away: if we couldn’t use a piece of equipment, then we used its parts to fix other things.” She credits the creativeness of several key volunteers and unofficial repairmen for “being the magicians” that made everything work.
The Lending Cupboard has helped thousands of people since it first began and, though Joys is no longer involved with the day-to-day operations, she still finds it heart-warming to know that the organization is carrying on. “It has truly developed its own legs and has become part of the community,” she says. “I believe in miracles, because I’ve seen it time and again: the impossible can happen when you need it the most.”