SOUTH DEERFIELD — For as long as Christina Johnson has been director of the South County Senior Center, she’s fielded calls from community members, asking if the center had transportation to bring their parent to a medical appointment, or just to and from the Senior Center itself.
Each time, she said, she would have to tell them, “No.”
“It was horrible to have to do that, over and over again,” Johnson said. “Most senior centers do have some sort of transportation.”
So when the director of a nearby Council on Aging reached out to the South County Senior Center, offering to donate a van the town would no longer need, Johnson jumped at the opportunity.
“For as long as I’ve been here, that’s always been the main concern,” she said.
Last week, the Deerfield Selectboard formally accepted the offer from the Hatfield Council on Aging.
“There are a lot of seniors who’d like to come to the Senior Center but don’t have transportation,” said Selectboard member Trevor McDaniel, who noted the center remains closed to the public amid the pandemic.
“I think we need to do this to help out our seniors,” added Selectboard Chair Carolyn Shores Ness.
The van, which seats seven people, will likely be used in three capacities, Johnson said. Those include group outings, such as to lunch or to the theater; driving seniors to and from the Senior Center; and transporting seniors to and from medical appointments.
“I have a plan, but I’m sure it’s going to be tweaked depending on where the needs really are,” Johnson said.
She said she expects the van to be dropped off next week. The center will then have to register and insure it. Volunteer drivers, which will be sought for rides to and from the Senior Center at 67 North Main St., or to and from medical appointments, will require insurance and training on how to use the van’s wheelchair lift.
In addition to those things, COVID-19 safety precautions will be factored in before the van is put into use, she said.
Prior to the pandemic, when the Senior Center was still open, Johnson said she relied on seniors with vehicles to volunteer to drive friends to any group outings the center organized.
“It definitely reduces the amount of outings we can do when we have to do it that way,” she said. “So this will definitely help.”
McDaniel noted that compounding the center’s lack of transportation is the fact that two member towns — Whately and Deerfield — use the Franklin Regional Transit Authority (FRTA), while Sunderland uses the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA).
“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “That’s the biggest obstacle with all of this is those two agencies not working together.”
Deerfield Selectboard members said the donated van will be a way for the center to “dip its toe” into offering transportation for its seniors.
“I’m really excited about this,” Shores Ness said. “I’m really glad we’re starting to do this.”
Mary Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne