Submitted by Orcas Community Resource Center.
While we have known that there are over 200+ families on Orcas Island without access to a car, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a new awareness of the need for readily available transportation. Even when self-isolating, eventually everyone needs to see a physician, counselor, therapist, or vaccine clinic. Several volunteer services, especially food delivery, have been coordinated during the past year. Some ride services were not deemed safe enough to continue.
The Orcas Community Resource Center works with many of our island neighbors who do not have access to essential services due to a lack of transportation. One such client, an Olga resident without a vehicle, visits town once every few weeks, provided he can find a friend or neighbor to carpool with. He needs to make sure any doctor’s appointments are timed correctly so he can still have time to shop for groceries, pick up prescriptions, and run other essential errands before his friend returns to Olga. This can be challenging if appointments are running late or if his neighbor is not available to help.
Another Resource Center client lives two miles from Eastsound proper. She would like to go to the Orcas Island Food Bank on Tuesdays to pick up food and supplies for the week. Without a vehicle, she relies on the kindness of friends. Sometimes, this means only one trip to town per month.
Recently, a senior client living on a fixed income and without a car needed to go to the Department of Licensing in Anacortes to renew her license in person. She does not have a reliable friend or family member to take her to and from the ferry terminal.
An OCRC client had an early morning appointment in Friday Harbor and needed to walk on the ferry. She would normally hitch a ride but did not feel comfortable doing this in the dark. She requested that OCRC pay for a taxi to take her to the ferry terminal. The Orcas Community Resource Center was there to help in her time of need, but taxi fares are very costly.
Clearly, there is a tremendous need for affordable ground transportation on Orcas Island. These are all examples of longtime Orcas residents with unmet transportation needs who have been served by OCRC in the course of just one week.
San Juan County is the only county in Washington without a public transportation system, yet we have the largest percentage of seniors and retired folks and the greatest disparity in income between our wealthiest and working poor citizens. The State-funded Transportation Voucher Program (TVP) partially addressed that problem over the past few years, but the allotment per qualified client is insufficient and is utilized primarily for ferry trips to mainland providers.
Currently, there are two organizations that offer limited transportation assistance to specific populations on Orcas. Though these programs have not offered transportation in this past year due to the pandemic, they are working to re-establish services.
Based out of Orcas Senior Center, the non-profit Senior Services Council of San Juan Islands Orcas District Committee collaborates with San Juan County Senior Services to provide medical transportation services. This medical transportation program on Orcas pairs volunteer drivers using senior center vehicles with seniors and disabled persons needing rides to medical appointments either on Orcas or on the mainland. As this program resumes post-COVID, it needs more volunteer drivers, especially for off-island trips. Anyone interested in driving can please contact Jami Mitchell at 360-376-7926 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lahari offers a transportation service, Orcas Door to Door, designed to meet the needs of non-driving, homebound older adults and adults with disabilities on Orcas. The program is available to qualified riders who need door-to-door assistance to access essential services and social events in order to remain healthy and active within our community. Our volunteer drivers choose rides that fit their schedule and use their own cars. Reach out to Sara Pelfrey at 360-622-2929 or visit www.orcasdoortodoor.org.
On-island requests for rides the last eight years have been continually met by the nonprofit IslandRides program on San Juan Island, and for the past six months on Lopez. Clients used TVP vouchers, made a small donation or rode for free 5,661 times. Volunteer drivers are available by phone every day.
Necessary elements to begin similar service on Orcas are: pollution-free electric vehicle; willing and trained volunteer drivers; on-island volunteer program coordinator.
Do you have a low-mileage Leaf or other electric car you would like to donate with a tax deduction? Do you have a day per week that you would like to contribute to driving neighbors to needed local appointments? Do you have organizational or leadership ability which can be applied to attracting and coaching drivers and passengers? Just call Curt VanHyning at 360-317-8399 email email@example.com or visit the website at www.IslandRides.org for details. Or contact Sara Pelfrey at 360-622-2929.