Photo Gallery | Shipping used medical equipment to Honduras
PITTSFIELD — For 20 years, Eddie O'Toole has been scratching together used and otherwise discarded goods to ship off to needy communities in Central America, where he once served in the Peace Corps.
Soliciting donations and recruiting volunteers, O'Toole has managed to gather and deliver miscellaneous items, from medical and school supplies to clothing and even pianos, every few years.
But thanks to the generosity of a Honduran savings and loan company, those efforts will be more frequent — and fully funded.
"We approached them to ask for a loan to pay for a shipment, and they basically told us we'd never have to pay to send another bunch of stuff down there again," O'Toole said. "They were inspired by what we were doing."
The company, Cooperativa De Ahorro Y Crédito Intubucana, has agreed to pay for the shipments — and it wants to increase their frequency to three or four a year. It also has pledged 10 percent of its profits to a foundation dedicated to the endeavor.
O'Toole grew to love Honduras while working with the Peace Corps in the 1970s. He returned in 1996 with his family, and they spent 13 years working with the community of Guaimaca, teaching classes in mechanics, first aid and languages. He even purchased an ambulance in Pittsfield to start an ambulance service.
The family returned to the Berkshires in 2009, but their ties with the region — and desire to provide assistance — remain strong. O'Toole has continued his mission to send goods to the country in container ships. He is currently working on filling his 10th shipping container, though he has spearheaded a total of 20 deliveries in various forms.
"Now we're working with these guys," he said. "They're going to send representatives here for a visit to talk about turning this into a real well-oiled operation."
O'Toole primarily works in three places in Central America: Guaimaca and Intibuca in Honduras and Malpaissillo in Nicaragua, a sister city of Pittsfield.
The latter became so as an expression of solidarity with the Nicaraguan people by Berkshire locals, who in the late '70s formed Berkshire Amistad in opposition to U.S. foreign policy of the time, which was to escalate a brutal civil war aimed at overthrowing the popular Sandinista regime.
"I'm really an environmentalist trying to solve the local problem of waste, who happens to know many communities who could really use this perfectly good stuff that would otherwise end up clogging our landfills," O'Toole said.
His present shipping arrangement is with Chiquita Brands International. The company, which delivers bananas to the United States at a seaport in Delaware, fills the empty ship with materials supplied by O'Toole for the return voyage.
O'Toole then joins the locals in Honduras to unpack and find recipients for the goods, an undertaking the savings and loan company now plans to assist him in.
He is currently filling a container with goods that include dental and medical recliners, carpentry equipment, three pianos, pairs of crutches and wheelchairs, clothing and more. It will ship out from Delaware on Jan. 22, and O'Toole plans to join the goods in Honduras on Feb. 1. He then plans to continue on to Nicaragua in March.
O'Toole said he is looking for help from volunteers to pack the supplies for shipment from their present location in a West Stockbridge warehouse.
"We're putting out a call," O'Toole's wife, Kelley, said. "The [banana company] truck will arrive by the warehouse loading dock and give us about three hours to load it. We could use some strong people."
How to help ...