Carts for a cause: PET program volunteers provide hand-operated rides to needy around the world

By Nick Blank nick@claytodayonline.com
Posted 5/11/22

PENNEY FARMS – Not far from the town’s orderly grid is a workshop that’s impacting thousands of disabled people throughout the world.

Penney Farms’ PET program, which stands for Personal …

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Carts for a cause: PET program volunteers provide hand-operated rides to needy around the world

Posted

PENNEY FARMS – Not far from the town’s orderly grid is a workshop that’s impacting thousands of disabled people throughout the world.

Penney Farms’ PET program, which stands for Personal Energy Transportation, makes three-wheel, hand-operated carts for victims of landmines or diseases in Latin America and Africa.

In the workshop, volunteers shuffle through stations where they cut wood, drill, paint and build the carts and ship them off. Templates to assemble almost every piece of the cart speed up the process.

Jim Kaelin is a former Fleming Island physician who has worked with the PET program since 2004. Checking on each station, he lightly teases the volunteers and he thanks them for their hard work. Three older models of carts are hung from the ceiling, which Kaelin compared to a Smithsonian display.

He said most volunteers live in the town, but school groups donate time as well.

“It’s mostly word of mouth,” Kaelin said.

Outside of the workshop is a shipping container and Kaelin said shipping costs have quadrupled. The program hasn’t escaped the realities of the supply chain crisis that has affected millions of people and businesses. Sometimes carts stack up, waiting on other pieces.

It takes about $250 to construct a cart. Kaelin points to a picture of two men from Africa on a cart. If not for the cart program, they wouldn’t have any mobility, he said.

(Founder Larry Hill) saw people crawling around in the dirt and it just broke his heart,” Kaelin said. “When he came here, one of the things he wanted to do is build some kind of device that can be used in a Third World country. You’ve got to understand these are not places that have Ace Hardware stores two blocks down the road.”

Carts enable the users to earn a living, though Kaelin said the organization is scratching the surface.

“It changes their whole life,” he said.

Sid Rooy, 95, is one of the program’s floor coordinators. He said the town’s PET program has shipped more than 13,000 carts since 2001 to 106 countries. It aims to ship 800 carts this year.

Rooy arrived at Penney Farms in 2001. He spent years as a missionary teacher based in Latin America where he was confronted with several people with disabilities. He said the connection between his career and the PET program was the Lord’s kindly providence.

“I thought, ‘Well, that’s what the good Lord prepared me to do.’ Because for years I was worried about people getting around,” Rooy said. “It’s giving meaning to my life as well as thousands of others.”

He said the program and its volunteers appreciate the national and local recognition, but the impact they make is the priority.

“Everything is produced by volunteers. Nobody at Penney Farms gets a penny, they get personal rewards of course,” Rooy said. 

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