Red Cross drivers help out in community

By Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

Dave Abrams, a driver for the Red Cross, helps Loretta Martens into his truck as part of the transportation service the organization provides locally. More volunteer drivers are always needed, he said.

Dave Abrams, a driver for the Red Cross, helps Loretta Martens into his truck as part of the transportation service the organization provides locally. More volunteer drivers are always needed, he said.

The Red Cross is well-known for helping the vulnerable - it has a long history of providing disaster relief across the country and around the world.


But just as important to the organization is reaching out to those at home, in the community, through programs and services that are offered by a combination of professionals and volunteers.

However, says one of its paid employees, "we can never do enough."

Dave Abrams of Virgil is a Red Cross driver who helps get people where they need to go - whether it's to a medical appointment or the grocery store. His paid position is only intended as a back-up to a system of volunteers, and there are never enough of those, he says.

Abrams has regular clients he drives several times a week, and over the past year, the Red Cross has expanded its hours of service. The number of people in NOTL served by the Red Cross has also grown, he said, but "we are a non-profit organization and rely on word of mouth and the people we help to spread the word about our services. We could be doing so much more."

There are about 40 volunteer drivers in the area now, and they could use double that number, he said. The door-to-door transportation service is available to seniors and people with disabilities who are unable to access other means of getting to medical appointment and treatments, therapy and even recreational and leisure programs.

"We can take our clients to a hair appointment or to get groceries," he said. "They just have to fill out an application form, and it's simple - it can be done over the phone."

Abrams has a little drawing that to him represents the task he and others at the St. Catharines Red Cross office have tackled - it's of two stick people trying to role a large stone, several times bigger than them, up a very steep hill - because as the population in Niagara ages, the need for Red Cross services increases, but the increase in volunteers, the backbone of the organization, isn't keeping pace, he said.

Loretta Martens is a Virgil resident Abrams drives often - so she can make it to appointments, grocery shopping and Wal-Mart.

She doesn't drive, walks with a cane, and has no family nearby to help her out, she says. The town's transportation system doesn't work for her - she can't get to a stop and it wouldn't take her where she needs to go - so she really has no other choice.

She appreciates having Red Cross drivers available - sometimes Abrams, but also volunteer drivers - who not only take her where she has to go but will help carry in groceries and other parcels when needed.

"I'm very thankful for the help I get from the Red Cross," she said. "I don't know what I'd do without them."

Tom McPherson is the spokesperson for the Red Cross in the area that covers Brantford to Niagara.

"Volunteers are the core of our service," he says. "The more volunteers we have, the more trips we can provide, and still keep the cost of trips down."

Last year, the Red Cross provided 4,200 trips in the Niagara Region to help those with mobility issues who are unable to take traditional public transportation, he said. Niagara-on-the-Lake, he added, is a "growing area" of people with transportation needs. Although it's better to call in advance to make arrangements - four days is recommended, McPherson says - sometimes service available for the next day.

"We have a wonderful group of volunteer drivers and a few paid, but we're always looking for more volunteers."

The Red Cross in Niagara has a small fleet of vehicles volunteers can use, or they can drive their own cars and be compensated for mileage, he said. The cost to the client depends on the distance. Within NOTL, a one-way trip is $5, to the St. Catharines General Hospital it would be $12, and $26 is the one-way charge to a medical appointment in Hamilton.

There are many other services the Red Cross provides, says McPherson - from loans and rentals of health-related equipment such as wheelchairs, crutches or canes, to babysitting training, first aid and CPR classes, and of course the disaster relief that the Red Cross has developed a reputation for.

For more information about transportation services, to apply for eligibility for transportation services or to volunteer call 905-680-4099, ext 7249.  

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