The Medical Equipment Transport Service (METS) is a locally-based non-profit organization that helps save lives through the shipment of retired medical equipment and supplies to developing nations world-wide.
The program is overseen and funded by the region’s Rotary District 6920, made up of 65 Rotary clubs around the state, including the local Richmond Hill chapter. The program is funded through those clubs’ annual dues and is staffed entirely by district volunteers.
Patti Victor, of Savannah, is president of METS and recently spoke to the Richmond Hill Rotary, giving an overview of what it’s all about.METS was founded in 2003 when Dr. Bob Ashley, a retired dentist from Savannah, helped out his friend in Guatemala with some medical supplies. That first shipment catapulted into the District 6920 involvement, 6000 square feet of warehouse space for supplies, official non-profit status and a board of directors.
"We are a District 6920 project, so you help make it possible for us to exist," Victor began.
Victor said that largely rural areas of developing nations have virtually no access to healthcare.
"According to a United Nations Development Program, over 11 million children under the age of five die every year from preventable diseases. That’s preschoolers. That’s 30,000 children every day who die from curable diseases," she said.
"METS is District 6920’s response to the healthcare needs of the world’s poor," she said.
The program has shipped 16 containers to six developing nations since it started, totaling a quarter of a million pounds of usable medical supplies, which is estimated to have cost around $5.5 million.
"We will ship anything that can be used by a hospital or clinic if it will fit in a 40-foot container," she said.
The program makes arrangements with local hospitals, clinics, doctors, etc. and then volunteers stop by those places twice a week and pick up products and/or equipment that the sources are willing to donate to the cause. Rotarians also volunteer their time into packaging and inventorying all supplies, and organizing warehouse equipment.
"Volunteers come on Saturday mornings and help package containers. You do not need any particular medical knowledge to do it, it is not difficult work, but it is very labor intensive, requiring many hours to do what we do. But it’s fun. It takes between 10-15 people to do a sort, we work hard, we socialize, and we even sometimes cut up a bit," she explained.
Next up, the program is in need of more warehouse space. Their current lease will run out in two years, and they are in the process of starting a capital campaign to help raise funds for a new, bigger lease of space.
Victor is hoping Bryan County organizations and/or individuals who are interested will consider helping. Since her presentation, Tom Prusa has volunteered to become Richmond Hill Rotary’s official METS representative. He said he looks forward to helping the cause.
"We have a big backlog of supplies in the warehouse because we haven’t been sorting over the summer (due to the heat in the warehouse). We’re scheduled (for sorts) through December, but I’d like to schedule through May of next year," she said.
As a group or an individual, Victor said local residents can help establish a pick up program with a local provider – whether it be a clinic, physician, nursing home, etc. She encourages residents to consider those in the area who could help provide supplies, such as a nursing home or physician. She said she would welcome hearing from an organization who might be interested in sponsoring the shipment of a container, or she said volunteers are always welcome to help with upcoming loads and unloads.
"We have everything we need at METS to make a difference in the world. And that’s what we are trying to do. The world is full of poor people. Poor people are usually powerless, they are forgotten, and they are almost always invisible. We cannot change all the woes of the world. But together, we can make a difference in someone’s life."
To get involved, visit www. rotaryMETS.org, call 713-4312 or email info@rotaryMETS.org.