WEST STOCKBRIDGE — Eddie O’Toole is standing amid heaps of used medical equipment, as he works his life mission to see that what we throw away here goes where it’s desperately needed.
On Friday, he and other volunteers rounded up hospital beds, stretchers, and other and medical equipment that is headed for a hospital in Intibuca, Honduras, next week.
When the truck that ships Chiquita Bananas to Hatfield every week arrives here empty at 9 a.m. Wednesday, he and other volunteers with Berkshire Amistad will slide it into a shipping container. And they’ll pack the “nooks and crannies” with crutches, wheelchairs and anything else that will fit. More donations are still welcome, he added.
He’s also throwing in 450 gallons of paint donated by Carr’s Hardware.
In this batch — the 15th he’s sent to the Central American country — is also a 100-gallon oxygen generator donated by Berkshire Medical Center.
It will power the whole hospital.
“Now we just need an X-ray machine,” he said.
O’Toole, 64, is known throughout the Berkshires for his gift of amassing perfectly good things that are headed for the dump.
He’s got storage spaces up and down the county, raises the $5,700 per container, and when the time comes for that next empty banana truck, he gathers it up and off it goes.
He said much of his support comes from his church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Pittsfield.
Bursting with excitement at the Balgen Machine industrial yard off Route 41, O’Toole explains that the 60 hospital beds were donated by BMC, Fairview Hospital, United Cerebral Palsy and the Berkshire Place retirement home.
He points to the reason why: one has a tear in the corner, and many are simply worn.
But they still work, and Honduras — a place where he set off to teach automotive mechanics for the Peace Corps 40 years ago — badly needs them.
“I pick up beds people don’t know how to get rid of,” he said. “Nobody will take an electric bed so they end up throwing them away.”
Early this year he helped organize a new hospital with a collective of doctors there, but they couldn’t afford to stock it.
And there also is a need closer to home.
“Sometimes people call me because they need a bed and don’t have insurance,” he said.
The group once shipped 850 desks from the old schools in Great Barrington before they built the new elementary and middle school.
“I took them apart and put them into three containers,” he said.
He gathered up all the old desks from the former Saint Joseph’s Central High School in Pittsfield and shipped those, too.
He’s sent mountains of things, including used computers, prosthetic legs, electro-surgical generators, dental chairs,, bicycles, circuit boards. It’s a long list, and it includes soccer balls and uniforms donated from Berkshire School, which also donated 50 doors and 300 theater chairs.
O’Toole is trying to build a theater in Honduras.
“It’s very difficult,” he said.
And when he travels there, he sees the difference it makes, and that’s the fuel driving him.
After the Peace Corps, he went back to Honduras with his family in 1996, and built an education center.
And the clinic now being stocked with equipment is in a town where the nearest hospital is an hour-and-a-half away.
“What the community said they need more than anything is an emergency room and a birthing center,” he said.
On a later trip, O’Toole twisted his knee in Tegucigalpa and couldn’t walk. So his wife came and tried to find crutches — there weren’t any.
“The carpenter who could make them wouldn’t be done until evening,” his wife told him.
“It’s crazy; and we’re throwing them away.”
O’Toole has another source coming soon: a retiring dentist is donating the contents of his office.
And he’s already onto the next.
“One thing we throw away here are pianos,” he said, pointing to one stashed away. “I have 10 pianos right now.”