Amesbury celebrates a new van for seniors | News
AMESBURY — Mondays are about to become fun days for city seniors, now that the Council on Aging has taken possession of its new handicapped-accessible van.
Council on Aging Director Doreen Arnfield had recently written a grant to the state Department of Transportation to see if she could obtain a new van for her department, which hasn’t had one for almost 12 years.
Arnfield said the grant process was expected to take roughly a year and a half to complete. But the timeline was accelerated greatly when the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority let her know that it had a surplus 2015 Ford E-2 350 van available at no cost.
“I got a call from someone from the MVRTA who said, ‘Instead of waiting for that, we have a van for free,’ so we jumped on it,” she said.
The City Council approved Amesbury taking possession of the van in March, and Mayor Kassandra Gove gave the Council on Aging the approval to hire a part-time driver to provide transportation three days a week.
According to a press release from Gove’s office, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the need for municipalities to help prevent isolation while providing convenient, reliable, affordable and scheduled transportation for older adults. The mayor thanked Arnfield and her team for their hard work in obtaining the new van.
“Especially during the pandemic, we saw how quarantine and isolation affected our community and for those without personal transportation, getting to something simple like a doctor’s appointment proved extremely difficult,” Gove said. “I’m happy to see the van come back to our community to provide necessary transportation services to the folks in our community who need it most.”
Arnfield said the new van will make it easier for seniors to get to important medical appointments and recreational activities, and gives people another transportation option, along with the MVRTA’S own Ring & Ride van service and the Northern Essex Elder Transport volunteer ride program.
“When you include the MVRTA’s regular bus routes with those, we now have four options available to seniors. There are so many transportation options now, so people don’t have to be isolated anymore,” she said.
The new Council on Aging van will be used primarily for medical appointments and shopping, while Mondays have been set aside as “fun days,” Arnfield said.
“We’re going to find out where people want to go and take them there. We could be going to museums, or maybe Salisbury Beach, we don’t know,” she said.
The Monday fun days will begin Monday, May 2, but Arnfield was joined by Gove and a number of seniors in christening the new van with a quick run to Hodgie’s Ice Cream on Friday, April 15.
“There were a lot of smiles and a lot of people said they felt like they were back on a school bus, which they haven’t done for years,” Arnfield said.
The Council on Aging relies heavily on its volunteers, but Arnfield said the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced those numbers from 130 to roughly 60.
The new van will also be available for a special volunteer appreciation luncheon the Council on Aging will host featuring mind reader and mentalist Christopher Grace at Holy Family Parish Hall on Wednesday, April 20.
“We want to show how grateful we are to the volunteers who have been able to be generous with their time over these last two years, that has meant a lot,” Arnfield said.
The MVRTA has been very generous to the Council on Aging for many years, according to Arnfield, who said she is grateful for all of its help.
“They have been wonderful partners throughout the years,” she said.
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.