Parish volunteer driver program is more than a free ride

MANOMET -- Friendly door-to-door roundtrip service is their specialty but their clients are often surprised that St. Bonaventure drivers will not accept payment -- not even to cover their expenses.

Instead, the drivers at St. Bonaventure Parish encourage passengers to contribute to the parish’s fund for the needy.

The parishioner-run St. Bonaventure Volunteer Drivers began offering lifts to members of the Plymouth area two years ago. Currently, the program provides transportation at a rate of 300 rides per year for errands such as medical and dental appointments as well as trips to the pharmacy, bank or grocery store. The vast majority of rides, 98 percent, are trips to medical appointments. Most of the rides are provided to the elderly, but anyone in need can ask for a ride.

Kevin McCarthy, who started the program, said the service helps those who have no other option. They cannot afford to take a taxi, and they have no one else to drive them. Often, even if they have family members who live in the area, those family members cannot take time away from their jobs during the workweek when most appointments are scheduled, he said.

“Imagine that you are elderly, you live alone, you’re in poor health and you have no one to help you during the week. You have an appointment with the cardiologist next week, and you have no idea how you’re going to get there,” he said. “From the passenger’s point of view, the importance of it is quite clear.”

The service is also a form of discipleship, added Kevin’s wife, Nancy McCarthy.

“It’s an opportunity for somebody to be in touch with their faith community or a faith community,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for evangelization. Sometimes in driving these people I find out that they could be receiving Communion at home but haven’t requested it.”

She said that the passengers need not be parishioners. The average trip lasts three hours because the drivers accompany clients to appointments and wait for them until they have finished their errands. They also help the passengers in and out of the vehicle and frequently strike up a conversation during the ride.

“It may be the first weekday in three weeks that they’ve had a chance to talk to someone,” Kevin said.

All 10 St. Bonaventure volunteer drivers are retired, giving them free time during the workday. They donate their time, use of their vehicle and fuel costs.

The small group of parishioners came together in September 2005 after receiving the endorsement of their pastor at the time and now have the support of the current pastor, Father Ken Overbeck. They began to advertise at the parish, but at first, it was difficult to get the word out.

“It took quite awhile for word to spread,” said Kevin.

Because there were few requests during the first six months, the program provided 300 rides in the two years. Now, through advertising in the parish bulletin and word of mouth, it provides five to six rides per week.

The two drivers who do much of the driving, aside from the McCarthys, are Don Nash and Ray Gaudreau.

Gaudreau, who recently moved to Plymouth, said he is happy to give back to the community.

“It’s a good experience being able to provide some help and give something back for all the blessings we have received,” he said.

Nash added that he enjoys serving a group whose needs often go unnoticed.

“The nice thing about it is it targets a group that people tend to forget,” he said.

Nash had been part of a less formal program, started in 1995 by Sister Jeremy Horgan, SSJ who came to the parish in 1980. Sister Jeremy said it is a relief to give the program over to others, and it has given her more time for visiting the elderly. She adds that at 82 she no longer wants to drive into Boston.

“Kevin took it over and is doing a better job because he’s willing to drive to Boston, which we were too old to do,” she said. “That freed me to visit the hospitals, the nursing homes and the shut-ins.”

The St. Bonaventure Volunteer Drivers’ first passenger was Margaret Kline who suffered a stroke and needed to see a speech therapist three times a week. Her daughter and son-in-law live in Plymouth but could not take that much time off work.

Kline added that it is difficult for her to take a bus and conform to its schedule. People need a consistent and reliable way to get around, she added.

Now Kline says that “everything is just ducky.”

Not only does Kline have a ride when she needs to run an errand, but she also arranged rides to Mass every Sunday.

Kevin has driven other parishioners to Mass as well. Two years ago he drove a woman to Easter Sunday Mass, and she died a short time later.

“Because of ill health she hadn’t been able to get to Mass for quite some time,” he said. “I felt privileged to have been able to drive her to Mass for the last time in her life.”

Another passenger, Lillian DeLouis, said that the service has been a blessing.

“I’m having a hard time asking people to help me because I was always the one doing it for everyone else,” she said. “It’s extremely important. I’ve raked my brain to find out how I could get back and forth to Boston for my cancer treatments or even for follow-up visits or for cataract surgery in Sandwich,” she said.

The only other feasible option, passengers say, is to take a taxi. Ethel MacIntyre said that a one-way trip would cost $25, an amount she cannot afford on a fixed income.

In the past she had to cancel doctor appointments because she could not get to them. With the St. Bonaventure drivers, she no longer needs to worry.

“They have never failed to take me when my appointments are. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to keep some doctor appointments,” she said.