Resident wants to pass on a legacy of ‘paying it forward’

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By Angye Morrison

When Georgeann Reffner and her husband, Rich, moved to Gadsden County a few years ago, she was sure of two things: she knew she would love small town living, and she wanted to give back.

She soon began working at the Gadsden Community Hospital, where she put her many years of nursing experience to work. She was troubled by the great need she saw for medical supplies, both in the hospital and in the community.

Reffner was working at the hospital when it closed in 2005, and she began once again to ask herself what she could do to give back to the community.

“I thought, what can I do as a nurse? You can go to the food bank if you need food. You can go to the clothes closet at almost any church or at Goodwill and get clothes if need be,” she said. “If you’re over 65, Medicare can get you medical equipment. However, if you’re under 65, and you don’t have insurance, as is the majority of the population in Gadsden County, then you have to do without critical medical supplies.”

Reffner said she knew there was a need for everything, whether it was as big a need as a hospital bed, a bedside chair, bedside commode or even simply a cane, walker or pair of crutches.

“I just thought, whatever you might need, there should be a place, especially in this county, to have and get these supplies, with the idea that when you are finished with the item, you bring it back,” she said. “We’ll put new tips on the crutches, we’ll disinfect it and we’ll give it to the next person who needs it.”

And so the Gadsden County Medicine Chest was born.

Reffner, who is now the program director for the Patient Care Technology program at Gadsden Technical Institute, wanted to get the young people she teaches involved as well. Students in both the PCT and licensed practical nursing programs do their clinical work at River Chase. The facility has supported the medicine chest by donating items as they are replaced for their residents.

“If they have a wheelchair they aren’t using, because they’ve replaced it, they donate it to me,” Reffner said. “I go out with my husband in a pickup truck and I pick things up and bring them back to the school.”

Once the items are at the school, Reffner said students in the welding or carpentry programs help with any repairs or refurbishing of the items that must be done.

“Everyone can get involved. Students can get involved for community service hours and learn how to give back. Neighbors helping neighbors. I thought it was simple and something we can all do,” she said.

In addition to those donations, Reffner said she is working with Craig McMillan, chairman of the Gadsden Hospital Board Inc., in the hopes that the board will donate items the hospital cannot use to the medicine chest.

“That will keep all of the equipment in the county and pay it forward to the people who need it,” she said.

Reffner said she will also accept donations from people who have been a caregiver for a loved one and don’t know what to do with the bed, walker or crutches.

“Call us and we will come and get it and give it to somebody deserving,” she said, adding that the medicine chest isn’t a nonprofit or tax deduction, it’s just neighbor helping neighbor.

Reffner is also looking for corporate donations to purchase needed items, and will accept donations from individuals or groups as well. She’ll also accept “elbow grease” from individuals or groups who wish to help with refurbishing donated items.

There are two churches already involved in the project: St. Hebron AME Church in Quincy, pastored by Rev. Clifton Riley, who is on staff at GTI; and Greater Bethel MB Church in Chattahoochee, pastored by Rev. Clarence Jackson. The churches have offered storage space for donated items and church members, as well as the pastors, have assisted in moving and refurbishing items.

Reffner is seeking churches in Havana and Midway to store items and to be points of contact when someone is in need, much the same as the churches in Quincy and Chattahoochee.

Although she has asked for no recognition for this project, Reffner was recognized by her school recently when she was presented the Humanitarian of the Year Award during the commencement ceremony.

“I don’t do any of this for the accolades, but just to help others and pay it forward,” she said. “I really want to be a role model for nursing for my students, and to just give back.”

For more information on this project or to donate items, call Reffner at 627-6795. In Chattahoochee, those with needs or wishing to donate can call Jackson at 567-2004; in Quincy, call Riley at 627-7242.