It’s easier to get political, to take action, when something hits close to home. And this time, it’s personal. Dial-A-Ride, a non-profit organization and, more importantly, my Friday morning ride to the grocery store, will close shop this coming week without further funding.
Sure, I can take JTA’s transportation service for the disabled, Connexion. I depend on them a lot. They drive all over Jacksonville, whereas Dial-A-Ride only services the beach communities of Atlantic, Neptune, and Jacksonville Beach. But, let me tell you how this works. Say, for a ride up the street to Publix. There’s no running in to check out a carton of milk in the express lane. No see ya in a half-hour. No way. It’s an all day event. A major affair. With lots and lots of waiting.
JTA schedules their time in half-hour windows. And there’s a minimum duration I have to be at any location before they’ll come back to get me. So, imagine they show up for me at 11:00 a.m. I could be cruising down the aisles by 11:05, but my pick-up time won’t be until 12:30 to 1:00 at the earliest and they’re often late. That’s two, two plus hours of my life I won’t get back. I’ve learned to take a book. And not buy ice cream.
Then, assuming they show up at all, the driver, usually someone I’ve never met because their turn over is sky high, is not allowed to help me with any bags. I’m only allowed to board with what I, a disabled person, can carry by myself. The Publix employees have learned to stack all my canvas bags on top of one another, looping them over the headrest of my power chair. I look like a homeless version of the crazy cat lady, carrying all my belongings at once, cat litter and toilet paper stacked on my lap.
Things could certainly be worse, though. I heard one horror story of a woman waiting on a ride with all of her bags at her feet. The JTA driver, who had just turned into the parking lot, took one look at her, shook his head in admonishment, and drove off. Just left her standing there. I should add that a store employee was waiting with her to load the groceries. Maybe the driver was anticipating having to help her on the other end, but something tells me she had that worked out, too. Not that he even stopped the vehicle to find out.
Contrast all of this to riding Dial-A-Ride. The soon-to-be-unemployed Josh picks me up at 11:00. (I’m fairly certain he’s the only driver.) There’s no 11:00 to 11:30 about it, so I don’t have to wait outside for half an hour. Then, he comes back for me at our agreed on time, depending on whether it’s a light or heavy shopping day. And he helps me with my bags, to the door, whatever’s needed. I’m usually unpacking groceries by 12:15 instead of inhaling parking lot fumes and watching bag boys.
But this good option of mine is soon to be a thing of the past. Founded in 1975 by the Beaches Council on Aging as a way for seniors and disabled citizens to access transportation to doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping and other necessary errands, Dial-A-Ride requires at least $4,000 a month to operate. I knew Dial-A-Ride ran on donations (including mine — the suggested fare is $5 round trip,) but I was surprised to read in Thursday’s issue of The Beaches Leader just how much fundraising goes on year round. Pancake breakfasts, ring toss rallies and theater events are all in the works. It reminds me of that bumper sticker that dreams of the day schools will have all the funding they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber. Why are things like art education and social services for the elderly and disabled the first things to go?
But I know I can’t just mouth off about a problem without offering a solution. And for now it seems fundraising is all we have. Being in a wheelchair, people are always asking me how they can help. This is how you can help. This directly affects me, not to mention other disabled and senior members of the beach communities. If Dial-A-Ride gets the money they need, I may avoid spending next Friday afternoon sitting in the Publix parking lot. Waiting. And Josh will have a job. I realize none of you know Josh, but still. He’s a nice guy.
Donations can be sent to Dial-A-Ride, 281 18th Ave South, Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250. Volunteers and grant writers are also needed. Contact 904-246-1477 to help.