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Island transport bus parked for lack of funding

December 25, 2019
By PAULETTE LeBLANC (pleblanc@breezenewspapers.com) , Pine Island Eagle

Transportation may remain an enormous issue for Pine Island if funds cannot be raised to keep the Beacon of Hope's transportation service alive. The program began this past March with $37,000 in funding, according to Beacon of Hope's Board of Directors member and Transportation Director Clifford Blumenfeld.

Unfortunately the funding wasn't nearly enough to continue the much-needed program and now it's been placed in a holding pattern until the issue of proper funding can be resolved.

"The problem is there's no additional funding,"said board member Elsie Stearns."The Beacon incurred the cost of the additional insurance, transportation and vehicles. Our van currently has a fuel pump that needs to be replaced, which will cost $800."

As the original grants and funding for the program diminish, transportation becomes an insurmountable expense for the Beacon's budget, which is already stretching as far as it can.

"Like any business, you have to stop the bleeding,"said Stearns. "As difficult as that is for every one of the board members."

"We cannot charge a fee for rides,"said board member Carlyn Herring, "because our insurance would go up so much - then we would be considered a livery service. We were advised not to do that. We were even cautioned about taking donations, especially on the spot, because it could be misconstrued as payment for the ride. We probably started off doing too much, too fast, instead of easing into this like we should have done and when we realized what was happening we started trying to ease back."

When the transportation program began, someone would be taken to farmer's markets and big box stores, but the board soon realized they would have to prioritize trips being made by order of importance. According to board member Nancy Buthman, there are approximately 150 monthly trips made for medical treatments and appointments alone. Although there is no shortage of islanders willing to volunteer to drive, for insurance purposes, the Beacon is not allowed to utilize them.

"The community group Pine Island Cares identified a lack of transportation as an immediate necessity for islanders,"said Blumenfeld."Other than Lee Tran making a trip to Pine Island on Thursdays, there has never been public transportation out to the Island. That is the time to pick up people for medical appointments, treatments and things of that nature. The real problem with that is that it's one day a week and that makes it difficult for most people."

Blumenfeld went on to explain that with everything needed in place, his desire was to get people off the Island to do more than just the things they had to do. Some people, he said, hadn't left the island to do anything personal in as much as three years.

"Three days a week the bus would take anyone off the island who wanted to go,"he said. "If people had a need for wheelchair access, they called and we made special arrangements. If there was an elderly person who lived more than a block off of Stringfellow Road, we just went to their house and picked them up. After two months of operation we were doing 300-plus runs a month."

As of Dec. 18, the Beacon Board has decided to suspend the program for 90 days. The board has determined that it will take $50,000 per year to run the island transportation program successfully, and the hope is that they can secure funding for at least two to three years in advance.

"We have applied for three grants and two have been turned down so far," said Stearns. "We're still waiting to hear about the third. We've been working and trying to achieve these funds to keep the program up and running. We have to figure out what it would take to reinstate this program and run it properly. We got a chunk of money to get it going and all of us hoped that the monies would continue to flow in."

Board members are hopeful that someone might be willing to step out and commit to match donated funds over a two or three-year period, as this would offer some solution to this essential need. Suggestions such as taking the money from the Beacon's thrift store have been offered, but with yearly financial reviews and a budget to contend with, this is not a viable solution according to the board.

"There's a real need here,"said Herring, confessing her own husband has made regular trips to transport families in need of medical care."But we can't keep doing it on a wish and a prayer, we have to have hard money. We're broken-hearted about having to suspend this program, but we need these 90 days to see what we can do as far as procuring not only funds but also commitments for future funds."

One solution discussed by the board to offset the cost of the island transportation is a sponsorship program, which would work by wrapping the transportation vehicle in advertisements for local businesses that would run for a predetermined amount of time. Although every suggestion is not necessarily attainable, the board, by its own admission, is very concerned about taking every idea into consideration to find viable solutions to this problem.

"There is nothing worse than watching that beautiful mango-colored bus go by and knowing in my heart that I'm going to have to tell that driver that he can't drive anymore,"said Stearns."There was an 81-year-old woman on the island that knew she wouldn't be able to drive anymore, and was making plans to move off of the Island, where she's lived forever, until we started this transportation program. It changed everything for her as she assumed she could now stay. So sitting here as a board member knowing this woman may have to make plans to move away because of a lack of transportation, is heart-breaking. We need somebody, somewhere, whether it's 10 people, or two people, or one person, or 10 businesses, even if it's every resident on this island committing to $100 a year - whatever it takes to get this program back up and running."

To reach the Beacon of Hope, please call 239-283-5123 or visit its websie at Beaconofhopepineisland.com

Another local resource of interest is Pine Island F.I.S.H (Fellow Islanders Sending Help) at 239-283-4442 or Pineislandfish.org

 
 

 

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