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Thieves target wheelchair charity

HELPING HANDS: Erma Lewis with some of the equipment she has collected

HEARTLESS THIEVES have robbed a Birmingham-based charity of more than 30 second-hand wheelchairs which has been providing mobility to those in need for well over 15 years.

The much-needed chairs were snatched from a locked garage in the south of the city where fund raising stalwart Erma Lewis has been running her ‘Wheelchair Recycling, We Can Do’ project for more than 15 years.

The heartbreaking news has hit Lewis hard, particularly as this is the second time her haul of discarded chairs has been stolen since she launched the charity.

“This is the second time it’s happened and this time it’s really depressed me,” said the Jamaican-born former nurse, originally from the parish of Portland, who has helped to raise well over £3 million in material aid to help hospitals and orphanages in Jamaica for the past two decades.

“Why would people be so cruel to steal second hand wheelchairs? My only conclusion is that they want to make money out of the scrap metal.

“I have seen for myself the problems people go through for the want of a wheelchair. We started refurbishing old and disused wheelchairs for people on NHS waiting lists or for those who needed them for family occasions or a one-off event. The whole thing just took off thanks to people’s kind donations, so I’m going to have to call again on people’s kindness to build up my stock again.”

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: Erma Lewis, second right, at one of her fund raising balls with, from left, Major Glenville Lindsay, presenter Nikki Tapper and Honorary Consul for Jamaica in Birmingham Wade Lyn

Earlier this year Wheelchair Recycling We Can Do won support from Comic Relief’s Community Cash Scheme and was given £1,000 in support of the weekly lunch club for those who are wheelchair bound. It is all organised by Lewis and her faithful army of volunteers.

The wheelchair charity is just one of her many good causes – with her main fund raising project being Erma’s Jamaica Hospital Appeal UK which she launched in 1998.

She felt compelled to set up the hospital appeal after a fateful trip home to Portland in 1998 when Jamaica was affected by terrible mud slides. A lot of people lost their lives; homes were washed away and Port Antonio Hospital was severely damaged.

“I couldn’t get the images of what I had seen out of my mind when I came home,” said Lewis, from Quinton in Birmingham.

“So I made an appeal on my local radio station and within weeks I had two containers full of donated equipment to send back home.”

Since then, Lewis has done a lot of work supporting the Bethlehem orphanage in downtown Kingston, while helping to improve the lives of patients and children at Black River Hospital, St. Elizabeth, Maxfield Park Children’s Home, Kingston and Kingston Public Hospital.

Nearer to home in Birmingham she set up yet another scheme – the Stepping Stones mentoring course helping unemployed people regain their confidence.

At the time of launching the project she said:

“Sadly, we cannot find jobs for people but we can help them to be work ready when the right job comes along. It’s all about boosting people confidence and making them realise what they have to offer.”

Every September Lewis organises a fund raising ball to help boost funds for her charities – and this year’s event on September 23 will be her 19th gala.

Anyone who wants to support the gala or donate a wheelchair they no longer use can contact Erma Lewis on 0121 422 0184.

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