Woodstockers can borrow a wheelchair, walker, or other support from the loan closet

Walkers at the loan closet. (Photo by Violet Snow)

“It breaks my heart when someone says, ‘We paid so much for that! I didn’t know we could get it for free.’” Judith Emilie, a volunteer with the Woodstock Loan Closet, is referring to the wheelchairs and other assistive devices available for borrowing from the little storage barn behind the rescue squad building.

Most items are available for free, including walkers, crutches, canes, commodes, elevated toilet seats, bath chairs, and bed rails. A $25 deposit is required for wheelchairs and for the closet’s two knee walkers, which are used as alternatives to crutches. Volunteer and treasurer Pauline Criscimagna showed how a person unable to put weight on one foot can kneel on the pad, hold the handlebars, and scoot along by pushing with the other foot.

The loan service is for Woodstock residents, although the volunteers don’t mind passing on crutches, walkers, and canes to callers from out of town when the closet has an excess of those items. Wheelchairs are more costly and scarce, so they are reserved for residents. “You can keep it as long as you want,” said Criscimagna, “just call us every 30 days to renew, so we know you still have it and need it. If someone calls here and they don’t belong to this community, we tell them to call RCAL, the Resource Center for Accessible Living in Kingston.” 

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The loan closet was started in the 1940s, when it was run by the Ulster County Public Health Nursing Committee. Among records passed down to Criscimagna is an undated, typewritten set of by-laws outlining the operation of the nursing committee, which was later folded into the county’s health department. For the loan closet subcommittee, the list of suggested articles included not only the supportive devices now available but also linens, bed pans, pitchers, children’s play equipment, and “books, if no library available.”  

When Dr. Ludwig Neugarten funded the creation of the Woodstock Rescue Squad building on Route 212, he made sure the loan closet would also be supported, and a room in the building was reserved for its collection of items. However, the closet is not financially linked to the rescue squad or the fire department, nor is it funded by the town but subsists entirely on donations. As the rescue squad expanded, the loan closet was moved around until it landed in the shed in the back yard.

In 2004, the organization was incorporated, but New York State officials said the name sounded like a financial institution. Woodstock Community Closet, Inc., became the official name, “but only for paperwork,” said Criscimagna. “Everyone calls us the Woodstock Loan Closet.”

Most of the items available for borrowing have been donated by people who no longer need them. Occasionally, monetary donations are used to purchase such devices as the knee walkers. Motorized wheelchairs are not accepted, since they are too large and heavy to transport. The shed does not have room for hospital beds, although if someone calls to donate one, the volunteers keep their name and number in case a request for a bed comes in soon after. 

Often people who are scheduled for knee or hip surgery call in advance to line up walkers or canes. They may make use of other devices in the closet, such as grabbers and stocking-pullers. “We make sure they line up someone to come pick up what they need,” said Criscimagna.  

While many people in town do not even know about the loan closet, others assume it’s staffed onsite, which is not the case. Eight volunteers serve on the loan closet committee. They take turns handling requests and visiting the shed to hand over or accept equipment. Criscimagna, who is part of the core group of town residents serving on a variety of service committees, was recruited for the loan closet by the late Jane Allen, who served as president for years. Emilie, formerly a neighbor of Criscimagna, found volunteering for the closet suited her because she couldn’t commit to a regular schedule of meetings or activities due to the nature of her job. 

The volunteers’ phone numbers are listed by the door of the shed and on flyers handed out to local medical offices, physical therapists, and hospitals. The closet volunteers are currently seeking someone who would donate their time to design a website, facilitating public access to the service.

The loan closet used to give small scholarships to Onteora High School graduates going into medical fields. Lately, they haven’t had the money to give scholarships but are hoping to award one this year.

To borrow an item from the Woodstock Community Closet, to donate an item, or to volunteer for website design, contact Pauline Criscimagna at 845-679-8549. The closet is located behind the Woodstock Rescue Squad building, 226 Tinker Street. People who are not residents of Woodstock may be able to borrow items from RCAL, the Resource Center for Accessible Living, 727 Ulster Avenue, Kingston, 845-331-0541.

Monetary donations by check may be made out to Woodstock Community Closet, Inc., and sent c/o 2 Whites Lane, Woodstock NY 12498.

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