Mobility is truly one of the wonders of life that so many of us take it for granted. This is a story about how an astonishing 580 people got their freedom back, thanks to a Connecticut businessman’s passion and determination.

It all started in Philip Pavone’s pawn shop in 2009, when he stumbled upon an opportunity to make a difference. There were some motorized wheelchairs hanging around the shop that still hadn’t sold and, in an attempt to clear space for new inventory, he placed an ad in his local paper, offering them for free.

Within two weeks, he received more than sixty letters in response to the ad.

It was then that Mr. Pavone began to realize the scale of the problem. Many of those who wrote confided that their insurance would not cover the cost of a motorized wheelchair—$4,000-$40,000—and they could not afford the cost.

“At that moment, I realized how many people out there were suffering. It was unbelievable,” said Mr. Pavone. “Some of the people writing to me hadn’t left their homes for months, even years at a time. Many were elderly and had no one to help them.”

As a Vietnam veteran and cancer survivor who deeply empathized with the letters he received, Pavone decided to take action. First, he bought, repaired, and gave away four more used wheelchairs. It was during this process that he realized how many of them were sitting in basements and garages, unused or broken—and he began asking people to donate them, so he could repair them and give them away. AZ Pawn’s Gift of Mobility was born.

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His process of pairing recipients with their chairs and scooters culminates each year with a major event during the holiday season, when 100 chairs and scooters are given away in a single day. Those who have benefited include an elderly Holocaust survivor, a World War II veteran, a woman in her 20s with a rare degenerative disease, and a number of patients at local nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.

All Photos Courtesy of GoFundMe Heroes

“Once we give these chairs to people and see how grateful they are —the tears and the hugging and kissing—I know we’re making a difference,” says Pavone. “These chairs offer a way for people to live an independent life.”

He accepts donations from March 1 to October 31; chairs and scooters can be dropped off at his AZ Pawn shop in Norwich, Connecticut—or volunteers can also pick up unwanted chairs within a 40-mile radius of the shop.

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This holiday season, Mr. Pavone aims to give at least 100 more chairs and scooters to those in need—without collecting a dime. He recently was honored as a GoFundMe Hero for his efforts so far, which will help promote his goal of raising $50,000 for the collecting and repairing of even more unwanted chairs.

If you would like to contribute, you can visit his GoFundMe campaign here.

Applications for the holiday giveaway will be accepted starting September 1, 2019, for anyone who can pick them up in the Norwich area: Send a letter to AZ Pawn Gift of Mobility, 442 East Main Street, Norwich, CT 06360.

If you want to donate a chair, you can email [email protected]

(WATCH What Happens When Someone is Give a Chair…)

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