(Linda Tulett Photography)

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY — The Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County is currently looking for more volunteers to support its Transportation Program, and drivers are particularly needed for the Watsonville area. 

“For most individuals getting to a medical or dental appointment, the grocery store, or bank is as simple as jumping in the car or on the local bus. But, for some in the community, it is impossible due to disability, declining health, or the rigors of aging,” said Senior Programs Coordinator Tara Ireland. 

The Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County Transportation Program has served to address the needs of ambulatory seniors and the disabled by offering free rides throughout the county for more than 40 years. 

The program matches volunteer drivers with seniors (55-plus) and disabled individuals for essential trips to medical appointments, grocery stories, pharmacies, and banks. Rides are provided throughout Santa Cruz County including Watsonville, San Lorenzo Valley, Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz.

“It is one of the founding programs of the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County and has been 100 percent volunteer maintained since its inception. All drivers and phone dispatchers are community volunteers,” Ireland said. “In the last fiscal year we provided over 4,200 rides throughout the county. We are proud to maintain a track record of filling 97 percent of all ride requests and we are currently seeking new drivers in order to maintain this level of service.”

Drivers can choose to make as little as one trip a month, or they can drive as often as they wish. They choose their own hours and destinations. All rides happen on weekdays during business hours and drivers receive a small mileage reimbursement.

“Every day, rain or shine, volunteer drivers show up on doorsteps throughout the county to provide a ride and a helping hand. It is the perfect example of a simple deed that has a huge impact,” Ireland said.

Each year, more than one million Americans aged 70 and older stop driving and become dependent on others to meet their transportation needs. According to the Federal Transportation Administration, about 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical appointments every year because they lack a ride to the doctor.

“With an increasing population of local elderly, demand for this service has grown,” Ireland said. “We’ve always been fortunate to have volunteers step up to meet the need and we look forward to welcoming in more program supporters to sustain our efforts.”

The Watsonville Transportation phone lines are open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and on average they receive 15 to 30 calls per day.

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