The Needham Council on Aging has a new set of wheels.
Thanks to a generous donation from the Friends of the Needham Elderly and a Mobility Assistance Program Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Council on Aging recently received a new 14-passenger van, complete with wheelchair lift and other features that help make travel easy and enjoyable for the many Needham residents participating in council programs.
The van has taken the place of the old vehicle, a 12-passenger model from 2004. Because the department relies on donations and grant funding, not town money, to pay their van drivers, they can only put one vehicle on the road at a time, said Jamie Brenner Gutner, executive director.
We’re looking at that; we’d like to expand that, so we’re not taking the other one offline,” she said. “It’s off the road at the moment, but we’re not selling it. It’s available to us. It’s being maintained at the DPW, so, if we can find the funding, we may put it back on the road.”
The new van cost about $58,500, with the nonprofit Friends footing a little over 20 percent of that bill—just under $14,000. Having a local match was a requirement for receiving the grant, and the Friends added a little extra for features like flip seats and hand grips, Brenner Gutner said.
Though the Council on Aging heard about the grant win quite a while ago, it took some time to go through the bidding process, then to get the van ready and to get drivers the additional training required by the state.
The van has officially been on the road since the first week of September, Brenner Gutner said.
Its maiden voyage: Transporting Needham’s gold medal Olympian Aly Raisman and her family to and from the rally and parade on Aug. 26.
“Our van contributed to the success of that event,” Brenner Gutner said.
But transporting residents for the Council on Aging’s shopping program is the van's main day-to-day use. The grocery program runs 52 weeks per year.
“We have a very extensive grocery program where, three days a week, twice a day, we have an opportunity for people either to go grocery shopping themselves or to have somebody assist them with grocery shopping—to pick up their list and go grocery shopping with them,” Brenner Gutner said.
Of the nearly 7,800 rides the council provided in fiscal year 2012, more than one third of them—about 2,650—were for grocery trips.
All that stop-and-go adds up, and that’s where the new van helps.
The wider van also offers a more flexible seat configuration that can accommodate wheelchairs, grocery bags and other needs.
“Everybody thinks it’s beautiful,” Brenner Gutner said of the new vehicle. “The air conditioning works really well, and the chair lift works really well, and there’s much more room inside, so it’s easier to move around.”
Needham residents interested in learning more about the Council on Aging’s grocery shopping programs can call the center at 781-455-7555 and ask for the transportation coordinator.