Palo Alto Weekly

- July 5, 2013

Getting around when you've given up the car keys

Volunteer drivers wanted for low-cost local transport programs

by Chris Kenrick

Retired Palo Alto teacher Peggy Foiles loves volunteering at the information desk at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, where she fields a range of patient queries from missed transportation to fetching babies out of accidentally locked cars.

But when vision problems forced Foiles to stop driving, that volunteer job and other regular activities were threatened.

"You don't realize how much you depend on your car," said Foiles, a Palo Alto resident since 1968, who taught at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital School run by the Palo Alto school district before she retired in 2005.

"It was hard to give up driving."

Her decision to let her license lapse in 2006 — and later the onset of orthopedic and mobility problems — put Foiles in the unfamiliar situation of having to depend on others to get around.

Today she pieces together transportation options to maintain her active life — including the volunteer job at PAMF.

Volunteer drivers from Avenidas transport Foiles to and from that weekly obligation, as well as to and from her twice-weekly exercise classes at Cubberley Community Center.

For other transportation she sometimes relies on friends.

"But you don't like to keep asking people," she said.

"My friends are very busy — they travel a lot — and I don't want to overdo that."

Beyond taxis, public buses, Palo Alto's free shuttle, private medical-transport companies and the federally-funded OUTREACH vans for seniors and low-income residents, local volunteer-run transport options include two programs run by Avenidas.

The Door to Door program offers transportation within an eight-mile radius of downtown Palo Alto for non-wheelchair-bound individuals. The fee depends on the distance: four miles or less is $7.50; five to eight miles is $10.50 and nine to 12 miles is $15.

"Not only is that significantly less expensive than a cab, you don't have to pay at the time of the ride," said Phil Endliss, a retired businessman and Menlo Park resident who is transportation coordinator for Avenidas.

"We bill at the end of the month for all the rides you take."

If needed, drivers help passengers with their seat belts and escort them to and from their front doors, Endliss said.

"The driver you get is coming on time, and generally is another senior who understands the needs of seniors."

With a separate set of volunteer drivers Avenidas runs a different service called Grocery Shopping, which typically transports three people at a time on weekly trips to Safeway, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods or perhaps Target or Costco.

Endliss — who initially got involved with Avenidas as a volunteer grocery driver — is seeking additional volunteer drivers for both programs.

Currently, five drivers each commit about an hour and a half per week to transport 15 clients on their grocery runs. (Passengers pay $10 a month). The program has a waiting list of passengers.

Fourteen volunteer drivers each commit about four hours per week to serve a roster of more than 100 individuals in the Door to Door program.

Prospective volunteers undergo background checks and DMV checks. Drivers are reimbursed for mileage. For more information, contact Endliss at 650-289-5453 or pendliss@avenidas.org.

To help support the organization, Endliss also suggests that seniors who have stopped driving consider donating their cars to Avenidas.

"It's amazing how frequently the same people you drive will express their gratitude," Endliss said.

"You take them grocery shopping for a year and every single time they'll thank you profusely because it's so important to them."

Endliss continues to drive a blind passenger to Trader Joe's on a weekly basis, which he described as "tremendously rewarding."

"It gives me the opportunity, as we drive from his house to the store, to be better at describing things — such as what banners are up, or what the weather looks like rather than feels like," he said.

About a quarter of the trips in the Door to Door program are for medical appointments and another 25 percent are for hairdresser appointments, he said.

The remainder are for any number of things — trips to FedEx, the library, the hardware store or lunch with friends — in keeping with Avenidas' philosophy of helping seniors continue to live full and vigorous lives.

Until recently Door to Door operated in conjunction with El Camino Hospital's Roadrunner patient-transport program, but now does its own scheduling as a stand-alone service.

For Foiles, Door to Door has made all the difference.

"I can still do the volunteer job at the PAMF information desk, which I absolutely love," she said. "It would have been horrible to have to give it up.

"The thing about Avenidas is they're so dependable. They come when they're scheduled to come — they won't abandon you," she said.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

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