Mobility Worldwide volunteers are accustomed to squeezing into tight quarters to assemble the hand-cranked wooden carts they ship all over the world.
On Aug. 1, this will no longer be an issue.
Mobility Worldwide MO-Columbia is about to open a new 12,500-square-foot facility at 4825 E. Meyer Industrial Drive in south Columbia.
The new building, called the Mel & Barbara West Cart Center, is 3,500 square feet larger than the old facility at 1908 Heriford Road in northeast Columbia.
It will provide lots of space for volunteers to put together mobility carts the organization has produced since 1994.
These sturdy, three-wheeled wooden carts are distributed worldwide to those disabled by polio, birth defects, land mines or other conditions. The carts allow them to navigate difficult terrain in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere in the developing world.
Although the carts are now made in 23 affiliate locations, the operation got its start at a warehouse in Columbia. These days, 200 volunteers and two paid staff members can turn out 35 carts per week.
Output will increase once the new facility is open for business next month.
“This new building is going to allow us to increase production from 35 to 50 carts per week,” said Executive Director Gary Moreau. “That, of course, takes more donations, but we are excited to get started.”
Moreau and his colleagues have been busy this month moving boxes into the building and anticipate that operations will resume in just two weeks.
Built by Coil Construction of Columbia, the Mel & Barbara West Cart Center is Mobility Worldwide’s fifth facility in its 25-year history. Funding for the new building and the materials inside was provided by donations from a number of different groups.
Features in the new building include a welding room, improved loading docks, larger assembly areas and high ceilings that allow for more storage.
At previous facilities, welding took place in multiple off-site locations before the mobility carts were brought to the shop for assembly. Moreau said Mobility Worldwide will still need the help of off-site private facilities, but having more space in the new facility will reduce transportation time and be more energy-efficient.
The mobility project will share its new quarters with The Sewing Machine Project and The Container Project, humanitarian organizations within Mobility Worldwide.
The Sewing Machine Project repairs donated sewing machines and sends them around the world to teach women how to sew. The Container Project contributes nonperishable goods, including gently used clothing, linens and medical supplies, to those in need locally and abroad.
The wooden carts are often packaged with sewing machines, clothing and other goods, streamlining the arrangement for shipping.
Mel and Barbara West
Mobility Worldwide is a worldwide volunteer organization that was founded when Mel West and Larry Hills, a missionary in Zaire, decided to build and send the carts to countries struggling with polio and land mine accidents.
The organization’s mission is “to provide appropriate mobility for all of God’s children in need,” giving first to those with the greatest need.
“The goal is to eliminate immobility worldwide, and I think this building will be a major stepping stone toward that,” West said.
When he checked out the new facility last week, he said he was taken aback by the size.
“It is big! It is well-planned, well-organized and will enable Mobility Worldwide to build carts for years to come,” he said.
He said he was pleased to see his name and that of his wife at the entrance.
“We are deeply honored to have that and immediately recognize that many other people have been involved along the way,” West said.
“It is satisfying to know when you get to the age Barbara and I are that what we started in our lifetime and gave ourselves to will remain long after us.
“Of course, it’s not the building that does the work,” he acknowledged. “It is the people and leadership inside the building. I am so grateful for the quality and love, generosity and the perseverance of the volunteers throughout the years.”
Moreau said operations have been slowed because of COVID-19, as many of the volunteers fall into the at-risk category. All of them have been wearing and will continue to wear face coverings, he said.
The Mel & Barbara West Cart Center dedication ceremony will take place Sept. 17 and include an all-day open house with refreshments for visitors.