No Slowing Drive Happiness Down!

Vulnerable Edmontonians are keeping mobile safely during pandemic thanks to a grant from Edmonton Community Foundation

When the pandemic arrived, many organizations had to shut their doors to wait out the lockdown. But with 800 seniors depending on it for transportation to medical appointments, pharmacies, and other essential services, Edmonton non-profit Drive Happiness wanted to stay open.

“We work 365 days a year. Our volunteers drive on Christmas,” said Executive Director Liza Bouchard. “People have to go for medical treatments like dialysis and chemotherapy all year long. It doesn’t stop — people have to go regardless of a situation in the world.”

Even before the shelter-in-place orders, Drive Happiness contacted Alberta Health Services to put safety measures in place and scrambled to acquire hand sanitizer and PPE for drivers and clients. Staff also put together a list of its clients — about 800 seniors at the time — and contacted each one to let them know about the health risks of COVID-19, the recommended precautions, and other critical information they might not know.

Thanks to the new safety measures and its committed team of volunteers, Drive Happiness has continued serving its seniors during the pandemic. In fact, its clientele has grown due to the closure of other driving programs and reduction of transit services in Edmonton and surrounding areas. The organization has also been supporting other organizations in the community, doing everything from delivering food hampers for food banks and driving staff to their shifts at seniors residences, to helping other non-profits figure out how to offer driving services to their clients.

“It was hard to watch people floundering and wasting time in a pandemic when there’s few resources and the need is so high,” said Bouchard. It has made sense for Drive Happiness to scale up its services to help meet the needs of the broader community: “We haven’t had to recreate or re-invent the wheel like other people — this is what we do,” she said.

That said, scaling up has come with extra costs for the charity, particularly in terms of volunteer recruitment and management. Bouchard said a $52,000 grant from Edmonton Community Foundation through the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF), has been instrumental in helping the organization cover these and other costs.

“There are lots of people who are willing to volunteer at this time,” Craig Stumpf-Allen, Director of Grants and Community Engagement at Edmonton community Foundation, said. “A grant could help Drive Happiness make the most of this willingness by recruiting and activating volunteers quickly, and thereby serve more seniors when they need it most.”

“It’s been difficult to balance all of the needs of seniors and our community partners, but we’ve been able to do it and will continue to do it until – well, we don’t know,” Bouchard said.