Maine Township shuttle service runs low on help
FISH driver Jerry Kenney prepares to pick up a client. | Courtesy FISH
Updated: April 29, 2013 2:15AM
The ad on the Niles Public Library bulletin board was nothing if not urgent.
“Due to the economy, FISH is experiencing over 40 percent rise in ridership. It is straining both the volunteer service level and the budget. […] To continue to provide a high level of service to all residents of Maine Township, FISH needs volunteers.”
Since 1971, Friends Indeed Serve and Help (FISH) volunteer drivers have been helping Maine Township residents get to medical appointments free of charge. Over the past six years, the township has been assisting them with finances and logistics. But the situation isn’t quite as dire as the ad suggests. While the budget is not really an issue, the need for volunteers is very much there.
FISH operates strictly within township limits, serving portions of Park Ridge, Morton Grove, Niles and Glenview. Most of the clients are seniors, but FISH service is available to all township residents. The volunteers use their own vehicles and cover most expenses out of their own pocket.
In 2007, Maine Township decided that FISH deserved some extra help.
“To make a long story short, we decided to offer one of our receptionists to take calls and set up appointments,” explained Maine Township Supervisor Carol Teschky. “It relieved volunteers from taking calls and setting up schedules. It worked out pretty well.”
The township also gave FISH an annual stipend. Most of it is used to cover liability insurance. FISH uses the rest to purchase gift cards for particularly dedicated volunteers.
According to the latest township budget, the stipend is $2,000 – a drop in the bucket next to $639,401 it spends on youth and family services overall.
Teschky said the stipend has been at this level since the township partnered with FISH, and the township has no intention to change it.
FISH Director Ed Oken said that, while the budget is not an issue, the need for volunteers is very much there. The number of volunteers tends to drop during winter, and this year is no exception. So far, FISH has been able to make due with volunteers they had, but that may not last.
“Most of our volunteers are retired people themselves,” said Oken. “So they get illnesses, problems, issues.”
This makes it harder to anticipate volunteer shortages.
There is also the matter of time slots. FISH Service operates between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and volunteers are free to sign up for as many hours on any given day as they want. This can result in empty slots. If FISH has a client in one of those slots, it doesn’t have many options.
“If we are desperate, we call some people, see if maybe the schedule changed,” said Oken.
The growing ridership compounds the situation. Since 2008, it has been increasing faster than ever. In Oken’s opinion, the current state of economy is at least partially to blame for this.
“People have to look for jobs, or work part-time jobs, so they don’t have time to drive grandma and grandpa to the doctor,” he said.
FISH service is willing to be flexible for their clients, but only to a certain extent.
“Sometimes, you get early appointments,” said Oken. “If you have an appointment at 8:30, we can pick you up before 9. But if somebody had to go at 6 in morning, we can’t do it.”
He insisted that the schedule is rarely an issue, since appointments tend to fall between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Overall, the township has been happy with FISH’s work.
“It’s a great group, and we really appreciate what they are doing to help their fellow people,” said Teschky.