By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Rides & Smiles is looking to recruit 28 more volunteer drivers before year’s end so all seniors in the area needing a ride can receive one.
If accomplished, the goal of recruiting 100 new volunteer drivers will be met.
Typically there are around 1,000 ride requests per month — or 250 per week — in the Inland Corridor and when not automatically filled by a volunteer driver, program officials sometimes have to resort to actively requesting among those on the driver list so needs are met, according to Marilyn Greenblatt, Rides & Smiles supervisor.
“Most of the time volunteers step up to the plate and take the rides,” Greenblatt said.
Of the requests, about 70 percent are for transportation to a medical appointment, she said. Other requests are so a non-driving senior can visit a spouse in a nursing home, attend a religious service, take a class or complete errands such as grocery shopping, banking and hair appointments. Rides can be requested seven days a week between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Even though it is operated by Jewish Family Service of San Diego as part of its On The Go offerings, the rides are available to those of all religious backgrounds.
It is open to those who are 60 and over, fairly ambulatory and mentally alert, Greenblatt said, who added if there are mobility or memory issues a ride might still be possible if accompanied by a caregiver. Riders are asked to give a monetary donation appropriate for their financial situation.
The money from riders, plus various grant and other funding sources make the program possible. Drivers are given mileage reimbursement and secondary insurance.
Rides average 10 miles round-trip, but can be for destinations up to 25 miles from a rider’s home. A split trip — meaning one driver takes the person to the location and another picks the rider up to return home — is an option, especially when the appointment is for several hours, such as during dialysis treatments, Greenblatt said.
The program began in the Inland Corridor in 2004 and expanded to north San Diego (La Jolla/University City/Carmel Valley area) in 2008 and eastern San Diego (College Area/San Carlos/Allied Gardens) in 2009.
Among the three regions, there are about 2,000 riders and 275 drivers, with the majority — 1,000 riders and 130 drivers — in the Inland Corridor, largely because it has had the program longest, she said.
Anyone 18 and older who passes a background and DMV check, and has auto insurance can give a ride. If over 80 years a physician’s statement declaring it is OK to drive is also required.
While ride requests are posted online for drivers to review, Greenblatt said those who do not use the Internet can learn about requested rides via phone. Drivers choose who, when and where they drive.
She said most volunteer drivers are retirees due to time availability. However, there are some younger drivers in the program, such as stay-at-home mothers who are available when their children are in school. Those who are working sometimes opt to give rides after work or on weekends only.
“We have some (drivers) from all walks of life,” Greenblatt said. “Some are available several times per day and others only give one or two rides every other month.
“We do not expect a certain number of rides (from drivers), which is the beauty of volunteering for this program,” she said.
Upcoming hour-long group training sessions are 3 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3 and 9 a.m. Friday, Dec. 14 at Jewish Family Service’s Turk Family Center, 8804 Balboa Ave. Those unable to attend a group session can request a one-on-one training session in Poway.
To volunteer as a driver, call 858-637-3051 or go to www.jfssd.org/onthego. To apply as a rider, call 619-220-0268.