The Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society was awarded a $20,000 grant on Monday (July 29), the largest single-year grant it has received since it was founded in 2016.
The society’s force of volunteers provide free transportation to cancer patients throughout the Lower Mainland, ensuring that people have a safe ride to and from medical appointments.
Since VCDS began in February 2016, more than 200 volunteer drivers and dispatchers have given of 70,000 hours of their time to the program. According to the organization, drivers have made about 46,000 trips, driving 1,373,000 km — that’s nearly 250 times the length of Canada.
Cloverdale’s Envision Financial branch, a division of First West Credit Union, awarded the funds through its charitable arm, the First West Foundation.
“The Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society provides so much more than just transportation to cancer patients in need. Volunteers offer a safe ride, friendship, support, compassion and understanding,” said Susan Byrom, senior manager for community investment at First West Credit Union.
For cancer patients like Betty Boudreau, the service means everything.
Since she was diagnosed a little over a year ago, Boudreau has had 17 different volunteers drive her to multiple appointments.
“I can’t say enough good things about them,” she said. “They’re always courteous. They’ll drive as close up to the door for you as they can. A lot of them carry water in the car.”
The most important part is that “they get it when you don’t want to talk. And they get it when you need to talk,” she said.
VCDS president Bob Smith was one of the volunteers that drove Boudreau to appointments. When they saw each other on Monday, it had been some time. “When I first drove you, you were pretty sick. It’s so nice to see you. I’m just delighted,” he said.
Boudreau, who is in complete response and off chemotherapy, said that it was “nice not to have to call you for a ride.”
VCDS was chosen as a grant recipient because, in the years that Envision Financial and First West has supported them, “we’ve come to realize that it’s not just a ride, it’s so much more. It’s giving [patients] company. It’s that caring. It’s really a peace of mind for the patients and their families,” said First West Credit Union community investment coordinator Christina Pocock.
“The piece that jumped out at us is how many of the volunteers give back as well,” she said. “They’re not only giving their time, they’re the largest donor group that [VCDS] has.”
That’s true, said Smith. Volunteers are reimbursed 48 cents a kilometre, but many donate the money back to the society. Those cents add up — this year, VCDS will take in about $60,000 from its own volunteers.
“We just started three years ago with nothing,” remembered VCDS vice-president George McAffer. “We just had a few drivers, no money. Just 40 dollars. And here we are now.”
“We just keep getting more and more drivers, and more and more patients,” he said, explaining that this growth was a good thing, as it indicates more patients are aware of the service that is available to them.
The $20,000 grant from Envision Financial and First West Foundation will “help meet the needs of cancer patients” throughout the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley,” said Smith. “We are truly grateful for such generous support.”
VCDS operates in Langley, Abbotsford, Surrey, White Rock, Maple Ridge, Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, Port Moody, the North Shore, Delta, and part of New Westminster. For more information on the society, visit volunteercancerdrivers.ca.