When the Canadian Cancer Society terminated its Volunteer Driver Program in B.C. in October 2015, hundreds of people were left scrambling.
In the program, volunteer drivers picked up cancer patients and drove them to and from their treatment sessions or appointments at hospitals across the province – all at no cost to the riders.
Chilliwack’s John Scanlon, who was diagnosed with stage-three blood cancer in April of 2014, used the service an average of seven times per month.
“It was nice and simple. All you had to do was register,” Scanlon explained. “Then, you’d just call in two days ahead of your scheduled appointment to arrange a ride.”
But when he received word in September that the program would soon be cancelled, he and cancer patients across the province were left with many questions and few options.
The Canadian Cancer Society press release noted similar existing programs, decreasing volunteers and ridership, and increasing operating costs as reasoning for the cancellation. The Society continues to operate transportation programs in other provinces, like Wheels of Hope in Ontario.
Similar free programs exist in B.C., such as the Freemason’s Cancer Car program and Cancer DriveLine Society, but they don’t operate in the Fraser Valley.
Scanlon currently utilizes Chilliwack Community Services’ Community Drivers program. For 19 years, the organization has provided transportation of any Chilliwack resident to their medically-related appointments. They operate 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and charge a modest fee of 53 cents per kilometre for most riders.
Financial assistance for this program is available for some riders through the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation, ICBC, or other programs.
Scanlon seeks to start-up a non-profit volunteer driver program for cancer patients across the Fraser Valley. The program would freely drive patients to appointments within the Fraser Valley or to Vancouver, recreating the geographical coverage of the cancelled Cancer Society program.
“I’m in the initial stages,” he said. He’s been speaking with volunteer drivers past and present, coordinators of similar programs in other cities, and hospital staff, all of whom have been supportive of the idea.
He envisions a dispatcher office space in town, a volunteer board and driver network, and funding through major corporate sponsorship and community fundraisers. That funding would cover the estimated reimbursement costs to the drivers, which is approximately 41 cents per kilometre for gas and wear and tear on their cars.
Scanlon originally hoped to have the new program up and running by October, but has since realized that the process will take more time.
The next step for Scanlon is to find qualified board members to commit to part-time volunteer positions. The board requires a lawyer, accountant, PR/Media representative, IT director, logistics and transportation director, fundraising coordinator, and a corporate secretary.
“Everybody I’ve talked to thinks this is a great idea,” Scanlon enthused. Now, he hopes people will step up to the plate.
“These are the directors I need in order to move forward.”
Scanlon invites those who are interested in joining the board or sponsoring the program to contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Those interested in volunteer driver or dispatcher roles can submit their contact information as well.