Fort Smith PD and CURE send 16,000 pounds of medical supplies to Ukraine

CURE, or Compassionate Utilization of Resources, is an all-volunteer Arkansas nonprofit organization engaged in local and regional volunteer work, collecting and shipping medical surpluses to overseas hospitals, clinics, and physicians, and regional relief in the event of a disaster.

CURE’s mission came after a 1996 tornado demolished historic homes and buildings in the river valley, killing two people in Fort Smith.

The volunteers who worked in the distribution center to help with recovery wanted to help others affected by similar disasters.

CURE also offers crucial support to individuals and families who are uninsured or whose insurance will not cover medical equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers and hospital beds. CURE board member Ron Hamilton said those who don’t have insurance covering home medical supplies can borrow them for free.

“Home health will collect things that customers need that insurance won’t pay for,” he said. “I volunteered to help and the next thing I knew they asked me to be on the board.”

CURE's warehouse near Zero Street.

COVID-19 has definitely impacted disaster relief efforts in 2021, but CURE has coordinated the use of donated funds from many congregations and individuals in conjunction with the United Nations Disaster Response Team. Churches of Christ and Disaster Assistance Mission to help victims of Hurricane Ida and tornadoes in Kentucky.

Hamilton takes care of their contact list, such as the Ministry of Health Services for host families and area universities, CURE was able to donate used furniture to them through universities that are renovating their residence halls .

Today, the nonprofit celebrates 26 years of service at its three warehouses in Fort Smith, and its work has spanned nearly 60 countries, including Ukraine, Malawi and Nigeria.

Each year, CURE receives, collects, and delivers approximately 30,000 pounds of donated food to the Community Services Clearinghouse, Hope Campus, and other efforts.

We purchased equipment for 33 School Wellness Centers for those in Arkansas, Darby Junior High and Hot Springs Lakeside School.

Boxes of medical supplies at CURE's warehouse near Zero Street ready to be shipped to Togo, Africa, where there was a recent cyclone.

Recently, CURE donated 16,000 pounds of medical supplies to Ukraine with the help of the Fort Smith Police Department. Special Operations and Crisis Response Unit Officer Cheri Taylor said she was so impressed with what CURE volunteers are doing.

“I was honored to be able to help,” she said. “Just to meet all the people and find out what they’re doing and be a part of it. It makes me want to help out more if we can because it’s just an amazing project.”

Operation Ukraine, an organization in Montgomery, Alabama, is working with an international shipping company in New Jersey to coordinate the transport of 40-foot containers of medical supplies. CURE stays in touch with partners who are in the United States and know how to coordinate with foreign countries in need.

Kevin Vaught, a CURE volunteer, said these partnerships have been “extremely successful”.

CURE volunteers and FSPD officers load the container of medical supplies bound for Ukraine.

Shipping these containers costs around $16,000 to $18,000, so getting that cost approved by a partner organization depends on who has the funds, Vaught said.

Containers are limited to 80,000 pounds of total freight, it cannot exceed this amount as per the Department of Transportation. The CURE team must ensure that the containers are balanced for the semi-trailer to make a successful trip to the shipping center.

The team must do all of this in two hours per container, if it takes longer the organization paying for the container will be charged more.

John Mundy, a CURE volunteer, said they try to fill in all the spaces possible so the donor gets value for money.

“Sometimes there is a bit of a delay in loading, putting the pallets in place, because we stack things inside by hand,” he said. “But for the (Ukrainian) container, those 16,000 pounds, we loaded in one hour and 45 minutes.”

Vaught recalled how difficult it is to organize these giant containers.

FSPD officers and CURE volunteers arrange medical supplies in a 40ft container to be shipped to Ukraine.

“The hardest part was when, you know, the (Ukrainian container) was kind of cited as an ‘easier’ container,” he said. “When you’re setting up hospital beds and other equipment, it gets a little, it gets a little more complicated to put this puzzle together to fill your space and try to keep your weight evenly distributed.”

Fortunately, the CURE warehouse has a scale to weigh pallets and pieces of equipment before loading.

“We’ve been doing this for over 25 years, and that experience helps us every time we do another one,” Vaught said. “Even though everyone is different, this experience helps every time we do it.”

A lot of tedious work takes place before the containers even arrive and loading can begin. Volunteers must sort through each donation they receive to check for an expiration date, down to the last box of bandages. Even after successful international shipping, many risks are still present.

CURE had their supplies destroyed by the bombings in Ukraine, and they have no way of knowing what helped people and what didn’t. But their mission, fueled by the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 in the Bible, in which Jesus reminds a young man that everyone is his neighbor and should be shown mercy, keeps them motivated.

“It’s just an awareness of how many people need help and help,” Hamilton said. “There are so many people who need it and it makes you feel good to do it. Our motto is ‘if not us, who? If not now when?’

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