p.-12-15-11Malta02Michael R. Cesarz, left, and John Miller prepare to load some of the wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and other medical equipment into a semi truck on Tuesday, Nov. 15. The collected items were in storage at a Jones Island shipping container in Milwaukee. The Order of Malta, to which they belong, collects the items, for the Springfield, Ill., based Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach for distribution around the world. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)John Miller needs a wheelchair. He also needs walkers, canes, crutches and shower chairs. 

Miller is not sick. Rather, he and other members of the Federal Association of the Order of Malta are collecting those and other items for the Springfield, Ill., based Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach to distribute to hospitals and clinics serving the poor throughout the world. Last month, a Mission Outreach truck picked up a truckload of medical supplies that the order collected and stored in a container at Jones Island in the Milwaukee Intermodal Terminal.

The Eagle resident and member of St. Therese in Eagle and Old Saint Mary’s in Milwaukee conceived the idea two years ago, after a bit of prodding from his wife to de-clutter the house.

“My mother-in-law died and we had her wheelchairs, canes and other supplies and my wife was after me to get rid of these things,” he explained. “The thought occurred to me that this situation must be repeated hundreds of times throughout the archdiocese. So I contacted the archbishop and put a notice in the chancery newsletter so pastors would know that the archbishop was behind this and supported it.”

Since the efforts began, the Federal Association of the Order of Malta has collected more than 400 pieces of medical equipment and supplies to benefit hospitals in Guatemala, Cuba, Honduras, El Salvador, Ecuador and others.

More information

To organize a parish drive or donate individually, contact John Miller at (414) 431-3787.

The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, known more commonly as the Order of Malta, is a lay religious order of the Roman Catholic Church. Founded in 1099 AD, it is the fourth oldest order of the Catholic Church. The founder of the order, Br. Gerard, opened a hospital in Jerusalem to care for the pilgrims who had been attacked while making pilgrimage to the Holy City.

No longer sword-wielding knights, the motto of the Order of Malta continues as it began during the Crusades: “to defend the faith and serve the poor.”

Worldwide, the membership exceeds 12,000; the Milwaukee-based group is part of the Federal Association consisting of approximately 600 members.

“We have five active members and two in formation,” said Miller. “I enjoy being part of this group as it gives me an opportunity to serve the church through our primary mission to help the poor and needy throughout the world.”

Since the efforts began two years ago, the Federal Association donated $30,000 to purchase the truck used by the Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach, enabling the sisters to ship more than 250 40-foot containers with $110,000-$140,000 worth of medical supplies.

“The sisters also use the truck to pick up surplus supplies from hospitals and bring them to their center where they inventory everything,” said Miller. “This way, when a country requests certain supplies, the sisters know immediately if they are able to provide what they need.”

According to Fr. Tim Kitzke, pastor of Old St. Mary Parish, the Knights of Malta, who host monthly meetings at the parish, are a small, but enthusiastic group who simply want to help others in need.

“It is such an extraordinary, simple project,” he said, “We put the notice in the bulletin and people bring in medical stuff that is clogging their basements and attics to Mass; the order picks up the supplies and once they collect enough equipment, the mission picks everything up to be used again around the world.”

The last drive netted wheelchairs, canes, crutches, walkers, commodes, stabilizer boots, bed pans, elevated toilet seats, shower chairs, tray tables and even a hospital bed.

“This is a very simple formula and all parishes can help,” said Fr. Kitzke. “John and the guys are just men wanting to do good things for others in an easy, convenient way and they make it their mission to help others. I support them and it would be easy for any church to become involved as the men come to the churches and pick everything up. I have seven churches and they will come and pick up supplies at all locations. They are a reputable group who does wonderful things with a simple mission – and that is, to help others.”

The most difficult aspect of the order’s efforts is convincing parishes that the medical drives are a worthwhile venture.

“It really requires no effort on their part aside from finding a place to store the items until we can pick them up,” said Miller. “This is an easy way for people to help without having to give any money. Even better, each person who donates an item can get a tax deduction because we are a charitable organization.”

Founded by the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis in 2002, the Hospital Sisters Outreach has worked to address unmet medical needs of people in developing countries through their medical recovery and redistribution program.

To date, more than $24 million in medical equipment and supplies have been distributed. More than 4 million pounds of surplus medical equipment and supplies destined for landfills have been recovered, inventoried and transported to needy countries.

“It really makes us feel good to help out like this and it is such a boost for our faith,” explained Miller. “When we pick up these wheelchairs and canes and other medical stuff, we realize that most of the stuff belonged to someone who is now deceased. The supplies were no longer doing anybody any good and now they will do some good.”