Small nonprofits walk a delicate financial tightrope. Staffers at a Dallas organization just learned what it’s like to have an emergency come up when the budget’s tight. One stolen delivery van means their operation grinds to a halt.
It’s not a new, luxury vehicle—it’s a 14-year-old Ford Econoline van with 192,000 miles on it. And, just over a week ago it was stolen.
“This was in spite of the fact that we had signs on it that said ‘we help people who are in need, please don’t bother the van.’ Because originally they had taken the license plates, and then several months later they came back and stole the van," says Betty Hersey who runs DME Exchange of Dallas.
Rehabbing Equipment For Those In Need
The small nonprofit sterilizes and repairs durable medical equipment—things like rolling walkers and motorized wheel chairs, even hospital beds. Once the equipment is fixed up, it’s given to low income people who need it.
“People who go into the hospital who don’t have a lot of money or they don’t have insurance coverage can’t afford to be there in the first place," says Hersey. "If they are to be discharged they have to have the proper equipment to make them safe at home and so that they don’t fall and have to reenter the hospital.”
A van is essential equipment for an operation like this—patient lifts and hospital beds can’t be delivered by car. DME’s aging Econoline was found by police a few days after it was taken, but the steering column was ripped out, the ignition was laying on the floor and the door lock was destroyed. It can't be driven.
“We have a very lean budget, we don’t have a lot of excess. So problems when they creep up like this are really major problems for us," says Hersey.
Staying Within A Tight Budget
According to the Nonprofit Finance Fund, three quarters of nonprofits are considered 'small.' That means they have annual budgets of less than $1 million. DME Exchange is really small—with a budget of just $239,000 and only three staff members.
“Not everyone knows about us, not everyone knows that we exist," says Hersey. "It takes time to build up a real following.”
Building a donor base does take time— finding people to give equipment to has been a much quicker process. People like Lucia Picaso, who dropped in to pick up a walker for her close friend’s disabled son.
“Her son is having a lot of trouble right now standing on his own," says Picaso. "And she had him admitted at Parkland and they thought that he’s going to need a walker.”
Buying one from the medical supply store wasn’t an option.
“No, it’s very expensive," she says. "We’re very thankful that they gave him a walker because he’s going to need it a lot.”
Keeping Things Going
It’s a story Betty Hersey has heard so many times before. Some people need motorized wheelchairs to go outside and get the mail. Others need hospital beds so they can live at home. That kind of gear requires a delivery van-- and repairing a delivery van trashed by thieves takes money.
“They’re not going to get help, unless we help them," says Hersey. "And we’ve got to get help in order to stay in business.”
DME Exchange of Dallas is committed to keep serving folks on the financial edge. All it takes is a van getting stolen to remind the nonprofit, it lives on that edge too.