From CNY with Love

Jan. 19-25, 2006
From CNY with Love
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
InterVol-Syracuse to Send Medical Equipment to Africa

Last year, Catholic Charities Director Dennis Manning and Director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries Ralph Jones ventured to Africa. What they saw there both appalled and amazed them.

According to Manning, the only medical supplies found in any abundance were Flintstone vitamins. Meanwhile, deplorable conditions and outmoded equipment were standard fare in the hospitals there. In some cases, the equipment being used was 40 to 50 years old.

Manning and Jones were in Africa as part of a project by which $10,000 was sent to the home dioceses of African priests ministering in the Syracuse Diocese. It also led to the inspiration for a new project quarterbacked by Manning: InterVol-Syracuse.

InterVol-Syracuse is based on the model established by InterVol in Rochester, a non-profit organization which collects and distributes donated medical equipment to hospitals and organizations throughout the world. InterVol also enables doctors and nurses to volunteer their time abroad. The organization is not connected to any church or the Rochester Diocese but is the brainchild of Drs. Tim O’Connor and Ralph Pennino, both of whom are Catholic.

InterVol was founded in 1992. Originally, the two doctors volunteered their services by teaching others around the world how to use lasers for surgery. During their travels, they were confronted with the poor medical equipment that is standard in many other parts of the world, and they eventually shifted their attention toward providing equipment to such places in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. InterVol also provides equipment to animal care organizations such as the Finger Lakes SPCA and the Seneca Park Zoo among others. Finally, InterVol provides resources to other humanitarian groups, primarily those located in Western New York.

InterVol also has strong ties in Belize in Central America where the organization works to provide Independence Hospital with supplies as well as several volunteer nurses and doctors. InterVol previously worked with Rosebud Indian Health Service Hospital on the Lakota/Sioux reservation in South Dakota. In order to obtain equipment, InterVol’s Executive Director Doug Castner maintains working relationships with roughly 25 hospitals throughout upstate New York. InterVol processes over 6,000 pounds of medical material per week according to the organization’s website www.intervol.org. Volunteers from over 100 organizations in the Rochester area participate in the operation and, according to Castner, 75 percent of them are youths.

As executive director, Castner’s responsibilities are far-reaching. According to Castner, he acts as a liaison with hospitals, organizes shipments and recruits volunteers. “Everything we’re involved in touches me in some way,” he said.

Recently, Manning and Catholic Relief Services began putting the building blocks in place for a similar organization dubbed InterVol-Syracuse. Early in December, the organization secured a warehouse on North Midler Avenue in Syracuse and hired a director, Jo Ann Perkins. Manning described Perkins’ job as being analogous to Castner’s. InterVol-Syracuse also recently obtained a tractor-trailer.

A technician for Eye Bank of America, Perkins said that she believes her experience in business impressed those who hired her. Although many of the pieces are in place for InterVol-Syracuse to take off, it is still in an embryonic stage. Perkins said that many of the people she would consider recruiting as volunteers have been ready to jump right into the effort but the infrastructure has yet to crystallize wholly. “I feel a little bit foolish when I don’t have anything to show them,” Perkins said. The first stages took a little longer than the organizers had hoped they would. Locating and purchasing a warehouse, was initially challenging. Manning noted that the committee behind the project considered several locations for the warehouse including Utica and Oneida. Syracuse was ultimately selected because, while it is hardly the central community in a diocese that stretches from Oswego County to the Mohawk Valley to the Southern Tier, the city is the most accessible.

“We had a committee looking at many different facilities. Syracuse isn’t really central to the diocese. It’s on the west edge but in terms of roads it’s a very good place to be,” Manning said. Since InterVol-Syracuse secured the site, Perkins has spent most of her time preparing it to receive donations. Ultimately, Manning envisions the operation spiraling out from Syracuse to include other communities throughout the diocese such as Utica and Broome County. Another criterion was making certain that the location was safe and a place where families wouldn’t mind leaving their children as Manning believes the majority of the volunteers will be young people. Perkins said that should InterVol-Syracuse expand along the lines it hopes to, the organization will need a larger facility. Although her position is currently part-time, Perkins said that it should develop into a full-time position as InterVol-Syracuse evolves.

In contrast to the Rochester-based InterVol, which has only incidental connections to the church, this Syracuse counterpart will obviously have a distinctly Catholic underpinning supported, as it is, by Catholic Relief Services. Castner believes that the connection to the church will give InterVol-Syracuse immediate cachet. “It gives it incredible credibility,” Castner said.

Although the organization will not be confined to Catholics, Manning hopes to recruit volunteers through the many youth groups scattered around the Syracuse area. He said that the diocese’s new director of youth ministry, Bob Walters, has been very receptive to InterVol-Syracuse. Manning said the recruiting efforts will also include speaking with parish-specific youth leaders. “We hope to put together a network of young folks and their families to come once a month to help sort and pack the supplies,” Manning said.

Manning noted he hopes to obtain a second tractor-trailer before summer and have two shipments ready to go by mid-summer. Each shipment includes roughly $150,000 worth of materials. The first shipments will go to those dioceses in Africa which have priests in the Syracuse Diocese, specifically the Obuasi Diocese in Ghana; the Nakuru and Murang’u Dioceses in Kenya; the Ahiara Mbaise, Okigwe, Ahira and Kaduna Dioceses in Nigeria; the Tororo Diocese in Uganda and the Tanga Diocese in Tanzania. “A flow of modern equipment will allow them a much higher quality of care,” Manning said. “There are professionals there — there are doctors and nurses — this will help them bridge the gap.” However, the effort need not end with equipment to Africa.

“I thought we would start with Africa but this program isn’t confined to Africa,” Manning said. “It’s just a particular place for us to start because of the priests that are here. Since we’re just starting out, there are certain logistical advantages to having a local contact.” Perkins suggested that many supplies might be better suited to local animal care outfits with whom issues of quality are less stringent.

Although its origins are considerably different from those of the Rochester-based organization, InterVol-Syracuse should have little difficulty expanding and growing according to Castner. “There’s no reason why the model we have here wouldn’t work anywhere,” he said.

Those wishing to contribute to or volunteer with InterVol-Syracuse may reach Perkins by calling the warehouse at (315) 433-9070.

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