Volunteers are stepping up to help Santa Barbara County's most vulnerable residents by providing free transportation to and from COVID-19 vaccine appointments for older adults and residents with debilitating health conditions.
mission::vaccinate was created by Community Partners in Caring — a nonprofit providing support services to older adults in Santa Maria, Orcutt, Lompoc, Goleta and Santa Barbara — to give a lifeline to residents isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"A lot of our clients don't have family or friends in the area, and a lot of the time those volunteers are the ones bridging that gap and helping them get back into the world," said project coordinator Kaley Wise. "It seems like just a ride, but it’s not — you could be saving someone’s life."
Community Partners in Caring also offers grocery pickup and delivery, free food delivery, programming enrollment, transportation to medical appointments, yardwork and "friendly calls" to local seniors.
Nipomo resident John Tarabini, who has worked as a Community Partners volunteer for about six weeks in the Santa Maria area, said he has seen how taking someone to a vaccine appointment or delivering their groceries makes a huge difference.
"The older people are the most vulnerable in the whole COVID-19 situation, so it's important for them to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Whatever part in the process I can play to make that happen is good for them, good for me and good for the community at large," Tarabini said.
mission::vaccinate began in early March and will be available to residents in need through May. Around 30 individuals have utilized the program thus far, but the group has the volunteer capacity to help out many more, Wise said.
The main problem has been spreading the word about the service, as isolation and a lack of access to technology have kept many from hearing about the program in the first place.
"We have the capacity to help a lot more, but it’s kind of hard to get the word out to seniors because it’s COVID and a lot of our elderly clients don't use the internet," Wise said.
To qualify for the service, residents must be over the age of 62, unable to drive and able to walk without the assistance of a driver. Residents age 18 and older with limited mobility due to a chronic illness or disability and who lack access to transportation also qualify.
Residents with a vaccine appointment must contact Community Partners in Caring at least two days before the appointment date to request transportation, and the site must be within 10 miles of their home.
Those requiring assistance with making a vaccine appointment also can call the program at 805-925-8000 to be connected with local resources, Wise said.
The nonprofit is seeking new volunteers to drive residents to vaccine appointments. Prospective volunteers must not smoke, be at least 21 years old and have access to a safe and reliable vehicle that is insured. They also must pass a background check.
Volunteers can be reimbursed for mileage incurred while driving residents to and from appointments.
“The simple act of driving your car can support seniors across the county and literally help save lives,” said Community Partners in Caring Board President Chuen Ng. “An hour a week — or even a month — can make a lifesaving difference to the senior in your back seat.”
New volunteers go through a one- to two-week onboarding and orientation process, including COVID-19 safety protocols and sanitation training, Wise said.