VON Greater Napanee requires more volunteer drivers, especially those who live in Amherstview.
When Kim McCaugherty began a position as Transportation Coordinator at VON Greater Napanee, her first question was “how many drivers do we have?” The answer was 10.
McCaugherty was taken aback; with all of the closings and lockdowns due to the pandemic, people simply weren’t going anywhere, but once things began to open, she knew many more volunteer drivers would be needed to cover her communities of Greater Napanee, Tamworth, Erinsville, Roblin, Selby, Adolphustown, Odessa, Bath, and Amherstview.
Since that time, McCaugherty has reached out to various community groups and individuals for help, increasing the number of volunteer drivers to 23. However, she said, “areas like Tamworth, Adolphustown, Bath, and Amherstview, still need drivers.” Amherstview, especially, is a densely populated area that requires multiple drivers to cover the needs of seniors in the area.
VON’s volunteer driving services aren’t provided for free, so having local drivers is essential, McCaugherty explained.
“As an organization, we try to keep the rates down because seniors are on fixed incomes… We bill the clients at the end of the month, and we reimburse the drivers for their expenses. So, as of July 1 when the rates change, a typical trip from Ammerstview to Kingston is $23.85. And so, what happens is, if I have a driver that lives in their geography, then that’s what they’re going to be billed. But because I don’t have drivers to pick from in Amherstview, I’m having to send somebody from Napanee and that bumps the trip up to $53.”
That huge difference can have major consequences for seniors living on a fixed income.
“It breaks my heart,” said McCaugherty, “But, if I’m bringing a driver from Napanee, I have to reimburse them. I can’t just give them the $23.85 – they still have to get to Amherstview to pick up clients. It’s a huge benefit to the client for me to have drivers that live in their geography.”
As McCaugherty pointed out, with the rising cost of gas, the rate will be increasing in July. “We were having drivers [telling us] ‘I don’t know how much longer I can do this… drivers were struggling. And so the word came down from head office that we were able to [increase] that rate… The clients won’t see the change until July to give them a couple of months’ notice, so that they can be prepared,” she said.
So, what kind of person makes a great volunteer driver? Somebody who is flexible, patient, personable, and compassionate, explained McCaugherty, who pointed to two such individuals who currently volunteer with the team.
Steve Williams of Napanee explained some of the benefits of volunteering: “I drive for VON because I’m filling a real need in the community for those who have some sort of mobility issue. I have met so many wonderful people, and we’ve enjoyed some interesting conversations sharing life experiences. I’m honestly a better person for doing this, having exchanged so much with our clients. And with the reimbursement from VON, it doesn’t cost me a cent. I would recommend it for anyone who likes driving and helping out.”
Brad Brown, who lives north of Roblin, agrees. He said he has been a volunteer driver for more than 10 years. “I get to hear some great stories… back in the day, seniors had a pension, but now a lot of them are low income, and it’s hard for them to get to doctors. I got a lot of people back here in the north. There’s no banks or stores, so I have to get them in to get groceries once a month. I have to get them to the doctors,” he expressed.
Brown said he’s made many friends over his years of volunteering, and enjoys going for coffee or dinner with some of “his folks” – people who might not have a lot of social interaction, who are lonely but have no family, or whose families are distant. “The families are always busy,” he explained.
Brown also stressed the extreme need for volunteers right now, “Since COVID came… we’re so far behind in surgeries, we’ll never get caught up. Like, man, I’ve got 10 to 12 people who need surgery right now.”
For anyone who feels they might be the right person to become a volunteer driver for VON, especially in the Amherstview area, McCaugherty expressed that she and her organization would love to hear from you. VON Greater Napanee can be reached by calling 1-833-355-6668, or visit them online at their national website, and click ‘Volunteer’ to explore opportunities.