In 2012 while working with talented, service minded folks at the Senior Center in Friday Harbor we struggled to develop a concept labeled Friends and Neighbors. It offered in-home services to allow Islanders to continue living independently as they aged or could no longer drive. We endeavored to match needy seniors with younger volunteers who could check-in regularly and assist with shopping household chores and running errands. The county with the largest proportion of senior citizens should offer essential transportation to its elders and others who do not drive.
Retired veteran, Bob Reilly appeared on the scene and helped put together a non-profit company organized as San Juan Islands Shuttle System to provide transportation to our Friends and Neighbors around the Town and eventually all three primary islands, The concept of volunteer drivers with a donated economy car and fundraising to pay for insurance, fuel and maintenance is the essence of a successful program. Riders loved the simple system and ride volume grew from 1,500 rides in 2013 to 5,330 in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has kept many vulnerable people at home in 2020 but they still need deliveries of groceries, medication and other necessities.
A recently donated Nissan Leaf on Lopez Island and a ready pool of volunteer drivers are extending the successful program there. Support from Senior Services, Lopez Island Family Resource Center and Lopez Lions Club are helping to spread the word to this community. The original vision of free ride services on the three most populous islands in our county is coming closer to reality.