Annual Gift of Mobility wheelchair giveaway to be held Dec. 2 in Norwich

November 23, 2018 GMT

Norwich — Until a year ago, Robbie Mae never knew how much she loved going grocery shopping or stopping in at Norwich Public Utilities to pay her electric bill.

Mae, 59, of Taftville, credited Phil Pavone, orchestrator of an annual effort to collect, refurbish and donate dozens of motorized wheelchairs or scooters to residents in need throughout Connecticut, for her ability to go to the store, pay bills and even go to Otis Library to enjoy a holiday craft fair.

“This guy is awesome!” Mae said of Pavone Friday. “He’s a tremendous blessing. The townspeople in Norwich and the surrounding towns are so happy that he has a heart of gold. He’s our angel.”

Mae, who lost a leg to diabetes, said her mother and brother both had passed away, and she was living alone and “sulking” in her Taftville apartment when a neighbor told her of Pavone’s annual Gift of Mobility program. She called and the cheerful Pavone told her to come right over to be matched with a scooter.

The scooter has allowed her to get out of her apartment, travel to the NPU office in Greeneville, get on a bus and go shopping and to job interviews. On Friday, she stopped in at Pavone’s AZ Pawn & Gun shop on East Main Street to buy DVDs — she was looking for Christmas movies, thrillers and dramas, she said — at 2 a piece.

“The gift is our Christmas gift, our Thanksgiving gift,” Mae said. “He makes it possible for people to live life again. He makes it possible to get to and from employment.”

Pavone is putting on finishing touches to plans for the ninth annual Gift of Mobility event, to be held starting at 11 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, at the Holiday Inn in Norwich. At the event, families and recipients will receive motorized chairs or scooters to match their specific needs.

The event annually receives media attention from newspapers and TV news, but this year, Pavone said, a crew from CNN is coming. He hopes the national spotlight will spark similar efforts in other parts of the country.

“No one else is doing this anywhere in the United States,” he said.

He estimated the program has provided about 500 chairs or scooters to recipients from an area ranging from the southeastern shoreline to Danielson and Mansfield and as far as East Haven.

Throughout the year, Pavone and four volunteers collect donated used motorized wheelchairs and solicit letters of interest from residents explaining their needs and situations. In most cases, insurance companies have denied their requests for motorized chairs. Pavone said one man was denied because the insurance company said his arms were strong enough to push his manual chair wheels. Another person with Stage 4 cancer was denied.

The chairs can cost anywhere from 25,000, Pavone said. He and his volunteers refurbish the machines and buy new batteries with donations received throughout the year.

This year, about 70 chairs or scooters will be donated at the Dec. 2 event, including an upgraded scooter for Mae. Pavone said it’s not too late for others to apply for chairs. He has another 25 wheelchairs available for donation.

Anyone in need of a motorized chair should call Pavone as soon as possible at (860) 889-4474.

Pavone said he increasingly has been getting requests for portable motorized chairs or scooters, which can be broken down and placed in a car trunk. Those are hard to find, he said. Many are cheaply made and don’t last.

While the big Gift of Mobility event is held each year in December, Pavone said throughout each year he provides chairs to about 20 people who have immediate needs. Earlier this year, he brought a chair to a World War II veteran in Plainfield. “The only time he was out of his house in four years was in an ambulance going to the hospital,” Pavone said.

He brought another chair to a woman in Storrs, a Holocaust survivor whose legs had been broken and mangled by the Nazis.

“I could give you a list you can’t even believe,” Pavone said of chair recipients.