BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — John Sayre opened the overhead door to reveal a storage unit filled with medical care items – tub transfer benches, bedside commodes and walkers.
“Insurance companies don’t pay for most of the medical equipment that seniors need,” said Sayre, founder of Blessings in Disguise.
That’s why the nonprofit organization created its Help for Seniors program, working with area home health programs to provide, at no cost, medical equipment to struggling seniors.
Sayre, a Maumee resident, normally collects donated equipment twice a year in drives. Now, with COVID-19 restrictions, he relies on word of mouth and calls from donors so that he can pick up items to meet the demand.
“I’ve had to buy new products to fill the gap for fast-moving items,” he said.
In 2018, the Help for Seniors program supported 242 senior citizens. Last year, that number grew to 420. This year, Sayre said he expects to donate 700 pieces of equipment to 500 seniors.
Help for Seniors is one of several programs offered by Blessings in Disguise, which Sayre founded to help others in need.
A 1982 Springfield High School graduate, Sayre is no stranger to loss. As he was trying to expand a business he founded with a friend, the two were swindled by a venture capital firm.
“I lost everything. They repossessed my car. I was living in my parents’ basement and I had pawned off all my stuff,” he said.
By 1995, he was back on his feet with his business doing well. In 2007, as the economy took a dive, Sayre saw some of his friends struggling. He and other friends wanted to help, so Sayre started Blessings in Disguise on Facebook. The friends began providing funds to those who were laid off and needed help with rent, mortgages, car payments and utilities.
Soon, Sayre was spending $10,000 of his own money, so he formed a nonprofit that reflected his grandmother’s saying: “When something bad happens and you learn from it, that’s a blessing in disguise.”
Help for Hardship was the first Blessings in Disguise program, focusing on helping people whose most recent annual earnings are above $32,000 for a single or $55,000 for a couple. Because of unemployment, short-term disability or family leave, these folks might need help but don’t qualify for government programs, Sayre said.
“These are people who are unemployed through no fault of their own,” he said, noting that he asks for W-2s and a letter from an employer. “If someone decides to quit their job or is on government assistance, we’re not going to help.”
This year, Sayre heard from many who said they lost their jobs due to COVID-19. He encouraged them to look for another job, but he also recognizes that those in the restaurant business, for example, are struggling to make ends meet.
COVID-19 has shut down several fundraisers, but local businesses have stepped up, including Savage Associates donating $14,000. Longtime supporters include Walmart, Sam’s Club, Jim White Toyota, Central Collision, Ventura’s, Principal Business Enterprise, AE Electric, Beth Rose and Absolute World-wide Logistics – which is his employer.
The negativity that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic and the elections prompted Sayre to add a third program to Blessings in Disguise: Be Kind is a way to recognize people, especially youth, who go out of their way to help others.
When Sayre read about two Maumee boys who helped a farmer with his crops, Be Kind provided two $100 gift cards to help them buy bikes.
As part of the Be Kind program, Sayre and volunteers packed waterproof, zipped bags with items for the homeless: gloves, a rain poncho, thermal socks, a knit cap, toiletries and a $5.00 bill. More than 100 were assembled and provided to St. Paul’s Community Center to give out to those living on the streets – and he’s picked up 100 more bags to fill.
The Be Kind program is also sponsoring 25 veterans and 20 families for Christmas and collecting 300 toys with a virtual toy drive.
In 2021, Sayre expects to expand the Be Kind program.
“We want to empower kids to do acts of kindness,” he said.
He shakes his head at how much Blessings in Disguise has grown from the idea of helping one friend in need.
“The whole idea of the organization got much bigger than when I started. I wanted it to be a means to keep active when I retire. I’m keeping busy with this while I’m still working,” he said.
Continuing the work is possible because of all the companies and individuals that provide funds, products and their time. Blessings in Disguise is 100-percent volunteer. Sayre doesn’t even use funds to pay for the gas he uses while driving around picking up donations.
His work hasn’t gone unnoticed. This year, he was a finalist in the Jefferson Awards program.
“It was good to recognize what Blessings in Disguise is doing and the people we’ve helped out,” he said.
For more information, visit www.blessingsid.org or Blessings in Disguise on Facebook.