Older adults have been sheltering at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, but are still in need of access to medical appointments, pharmacies and grocery stores, as well as rides to vaccination sites.
Senior Ride Nashville, a nonprofit organization that pairs seniors who need a ride with a volunteer who can give a ride, is actively recruiting volunteer drivers who want to help provide transportation to these valuable members of the community.
“We were forced to suspend services in mid-March 2020 and when we reopened at the end of June, many of our drivers declined to return until a COVID-19 vaccine was available, leading to a 60% drop-off in volunteers,” said Carrie Brumfield, executive director of Senior Ride Nashville. “We had to limit our rides to fewer types of places, like doctor’s offices and grocery stores.”
Brumfield said the severe shortage of volunteers made it harder to maintain one of the hallmarks of the service, which is the social relationship that develops between riders and drivers.
“Give a ride — make a friend is more than just a slogan for us,” she said. “We’ve seen volunteers who hit it off with a rider sign up to drive them repeatedly and over time they develop deep friendships. The drivers often stay with the riders during their shopping excursions or medical appointments. It’s more of a neighborly experience and it builds a sense of community for everyone.”
Many of the senior passengers say the service gives them more independence and their drivers feel like members of an extended family, says Brumfield.
All of the volunteer drivers receive special training, including new cleaning protocols during the pandemic. Both drivers and passengers are required to wear masks and vehicles are cleaned between appointments. Drivers also undergo a background check and must have current auto insurance.
Older adults who need rides pay a small fee per trip, plus an annual membership fee which can be waived for hardship cases.
Senior Ride Nashville added new programming in 2020 to respond to the pandemic. This includes the creation of a new Friendly Neighbor Program, which pairs volunteers with older adults for telephone conversations, social stimulation and errand support.
The organization also delivered groceries donated by The Store to riders with food security issues, delivered bags of cleaning supplies from the Community Resource Center, coordinated with the Masks Now Coalition to supply reusable masks for riders and drivers, and collaborated with AgeWell Middle Tennessee to create a flyer with valuable information for families about how to find services for home-delivered meals, groceries and medications.
Senior Ride Nashville receives funding from government agencies, foundations like The West End Home Foundation, the HCA Foundation, United Way of Middle Tennessee, the Memorial Foundation, and contributions from the community to support the transportation program.
For more information about how to volunteer as a driver or to enroll as a participant in the ride program, visit www.seniorridenashville.org or call 615-610-4040.