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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Free rides for Valley seniors will resume

Two organizations have taken the wheel of a senior transportation program that drove off course when a bingo parlor closed.

Spokane Valley Meals on Wheels and Catholic Charities Volunteer Chore Service will start offering free rides for elderly Spokane Valley residents in August.

They are picking up the pieces of a program formerly run by Spokane Valley Foundation. That program provided free rides for 50 to 70 seniors a week, taking them to doctor visits, hair appointments, grocery stores and other destinations.

“We just decided we can’t let people go without transportation. People need to get out if they can,” said Pam Almeida, director of Spokane Valley Meals on Wheels.

So far the two agencies have enough drivers to offer rides all day Wednesday and on Monday afternoons.

A few weeks ago the service nearly disappeared when Spokane Valley Foundation closed its bingo hall, the program’s sole source of funding.

Unfortunately, interest in bingo declined, forcing the cash-strapped foundation to shut down its senior ride service and opt out of Rural Feeder Service, which provides transportation for disabled people living outside Spokane Transit Authority boundaries.

Coalition of Responsible Disabled has taken on more dispatch responsibilities to keep the newly formed Rural Feeder Service running.

Tom Carroll, director of Catholic Charities Volunteer Chore Service, said his group already offers free rides for seniors living in Spokane County, so expanding the program made sense.

“We’re excited to be a part of the collaboration,” Carroll said.

The service has 200 volunteers – and about a dozen drivers – who provide help to Spokane County seniors with yardwork, repairs and rides.

Carroll said the joint effort arose after Almeida heard from seniors who were stranded at home.

“Yes, they were getting their meals, but they needed a little more assistance,” he said.

The chore service will reimburse drivers 40.5 cents per mile, using money provided through Catholic Charities and a state grant.

Almeida praised her board of directors for approving the move, saying seniors who are homebound face problems with isolation, depression and declining health. She has 250 Meals on Wheels volunteers, but is working to recruit 10 drivers.

“It’s going to be a lot of work, but I think it’s going to be worth it,” she said.