LOCAL NEWS by Lisa Loomis June 13, 2019
The Free Wheelin’ program is now operational for local senior citizens. Photo: Mike Hartigan
A 2019 Subaru Forester dedicated to providing transportation for local senior citizens arrived in The Valley recently, thanks to the combined efforts of several community organizations.
A paid driver and several volunteer drivers have been found and the new Free Wheelin’ program is now operational. The car will be used to ferry seniors and others who qualify for free transportation to aggregate senior lunches on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Evergreen Place.
Seniors and others will be able to call and arrange rides to lunch as well as shopping, doctors’ offices and hospital visits. The car and homegrown transportation service (including a part-time driver) are part of a pilot program that is taking place through the cooperative efforts of the Mad River Valley Senior Citizens, the Mad River Valley Community Fund and the Mad River Valley Interfaith Council.
The three organizations will contribute $15,000 each for two years to fund the pilot project. Alice Peal, Waitsfield, who serves as the town’s representative to the Mad River Valley Transportation Advisory Committee, came to the town select board this week to explain the new program.
Peal explained the evolution of the program, thanking Rebecca Baruzzi of Capstone Community Development, Mariah Noth of the Mad River Valley Planning District, Johnnye Eure and Michael Bransfield of the Mad River Valley Seniors for making it happen.
“Last Thursday was the launch. It’s going to operate all the time. First it will service seniors on Tuesdays and Thursdays to get seniors to lunch,” Peal told the select board at its June 10 meeting.
Those seeking a ride can call 802-249-3427. People are asked to call 48 hours in advance and transportation will be available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. The Free Wheelin’ program will take people to and from the senior aggregate lunches, to and from the Mad River Valley Food Shelf, shopping, to and from the medical center or Central Vermont Medical Center or Dartmouth and other doctors’ visits.
Peal said that the same group of people who worked to make this happen are going to continue to work with Green Mountain Transit on funding to provide a handicapped-accessible bus.
“We’ll start working on that now,” she said.
The Free Wheelin’ program is aimed at seniors but will also be available to other Valley residents who can’t access transportation.
Peal said that she and Noth are continuing to work with Green Mountain Transit to solve a winter transportation problem so that seniors riding the bus during the winter don’t have to ride to Sugarbush and back to go shopping.
Select board member and Mad River Valley Community Fund board member Jon Jamieson said that the funding organizations would compile quarterly data on how many rides are provided and other details to assess the success of the program.
Peal noted that in addition to the contributions of the three local groups, a local person donated a $500 Subaru coupon for the effort.
“There’s a lot of money out there. We didn’t need to wait for a local option tax and we don’t need a local option tax,” Peal added.