I-Ride partnerships help local nonprofits fulfill their missions

Since 1974, I-Ride has provided the people of Isabella County with a reliable means of transportation to work, doctor’s appointments, grocery stores, and everywhere in between. In its nearly 50 years of operation, the public transportation service has provided well over 15.8 million passenger trips since recordkeeping began in 1977. While I-Ride’s work with individuals has made a difference in the lives of many residents, its work with local nonprofit organizations has carried that impact further.

I-Ride has longstanding relationships with many local agencies providing services to the community such as The Care Store, Christmas Outreach of Isabella County, and the Isabella County Restoration House (ICRH). Over the past year, I-Ride has used its services to support local agencies that are working to help those in need during this critical time.

“Community is very important to us,” says Rick Collins, Executive Director of I-Ride. “It has been a goal and a mission of mine to make sure that we can communicate to the public – not only through advertising and traditional ways, but through our actions – how important it is to be more than simply doing bus rides. I think that's something that particularly in this last year we've been able to really highlight.”

One of the ways I-Ride has made their message of “community” loud and clear is that all bus rides have been free of charge since the early onset of the pandemic. I-Ride stressed that they were providing essential trips only due to the stay-at-home executive order; however, for those who continued to ride the buses, Collins says the importance of ensuring that the buses continued to run became clear very quickly.

“It's in those times when you hear from the people that without that service they would have a vital lifeline cut off from them,” says Collins.

Another way I-Ride demonstrated their message of “community” during the past year was by participating in collaborative meetings with other service agencies in the community. During those meetings, and as the pandemic pressed on throughout 2020, one problem became prominent among multiple agencies: how to get their services to the community without putting the community at risk of spreading COVID-19.

I-Ride rose to the occasion and became the solution for that problem.

I-Ride bus driver Jennifer Ames checks off who has received a package from The Care Store on her delivery list.
“During normal operations, our guests would schedule their own appointments during each agency's operating hours and schedule their own bus ride when they needed one. We would frequently see an I-Ride bus right outside our front door either dropping someone off or picking someone up,” says Julia Eigenbrood, Director of Guest Services at The Care Store. “I-Ride bus drivers go above and beyond not only picking up guests but getting out and helping them load their boxes onto the bus.”

Prior to COVID-19, a similar set-up was found during Christmas Outreach and at other local service agencies. However, once the pandemic struck, I-Ride shifted gears.

“COVID has temporarily and totally changed how we serve all our guests,” says Kim McBryde, Executive Director of The Care Store. “The Care Store and CCN's [Community Compassion Network] Food Pantry are serving people through our outside distribution line, so that leaves anyone without a car unable to access what we offer. That's where the I-Ride heroes come in, they have selflessly changed from delivering people to the center to carrying items to the people.”

I-Ride now delivers boxes from The Care Store twice per month, providing about three buses for each delivery which takes each bus around three hours to complete.

Julie Harris-Foss, a 60-year-old Mt. Pleasant resident who doesn’t have a car, says she has been riding the I-Ride buses for over 10 years to work and other places she needs to go. She adds that she is incredibly thankful for the partnerships I-Ride has that keep the community safe and enable her to receive the services she needs.

Volunteers Marc Cooper and Caleb Ross pick up boxes from The Care Store that are aboard an I-Ride bus and about to be delivered to local residents.
“When I-Ride gets to my house they will actually call me and tell me that the bus is downstairs or out front and then I can come and get my stuff,” says Harris-Foss. “That helps a lot because it's a lot safer for our community. If the bus goes there and picks up 30 people's food and they go in the community and they drop off these 30 packages that's a lot safer than having 30 people show up there.”

During the Christmas season, I-Ride also delivered packages for Christmas Outreach – a service that Christmas Outreach President, Peggy Burke, says was invaluable. While some people were able to come pick up their bags for Christmas Outreach, about 60 needed to be delivered, which took the I-Ride buses around three hours.

“There were packages for 17 households that still needed to be delivered because people hadn’t picked them up or other reasons,” says Burke. “My husband and I did almost all of that and it took us most of the day ourselves - driving our car around to deliver them.”

Collins says that I-Ride has provided over 1,500 deliveries of food, care packages, and Christmas Outreach parcels.

“The partnerships developed a long time ago when all of these agencies were first created,” says Collins. “The idea to drop off the packages rather than bring the people out was simply a byproduct of the pandemic and it's obviously a lot safer that way to minimize contact.”

One agency that has had a partnership with I-Ride since its inception is ICRH, a seasonal rotating shelter in Mt. Pleasant which is open during the coldest months of the year.

Executive Director of ICRH, Dee Obrecht, says I-Ride helps to transport guests between the day and night shelters every night that they are open, a relationship that is critical for a rotating shelter since many of the guests don’t have cars.

In addition to transporting guests between the day and night shelters, Obrecht says I-Ride also transports guests to the grocery store, appointments, jobs, and other places. Currently, all rides with I-Ride are free; however, in the past, she says I-Ride gave the Isabella County Restoration House a discounted rate for being able to utilize that service on a regular basis – which was covered by the agency on behalf of the guests.

I-Ride traveled 940,217 miles and provided 252,228 passenger trips in 2020 alone.
This year, Obrecht says there have been an average of about 21-22 guests each night, a number that has had to remain lower due to the pandemic and social distancing restrictions. In previous years, there have been as many as 36 guests at night. Without I-Ride, transporting these guests would be impossible as many of them don’t have personal vehicles and there would be insurance issues if staff vehicles were used.

“We would not be able to be a rotating shelter without I-Ride,” she says. “All of us would not be able to do what we do to the capacity that we do it without I-Ride.”

Collins says that no one can receive a service if they can’t get to where they need to go to receive the service, whether it be a doctor’s appointment, getting a cancer treatment, or going to the senior center.

“Whatever that service is, they first need to get to the provider to be able to do that service,” says Collins. “Some people don't have the ability to get in the car and drive there or get there by any other means. That's what we're here to do. We're here to fill the gaps, to be able to provide access to people to any of the services that they need.”
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Read more articles by Gabrielle Haiderer.

Gabrielle "Gabe" Haiderer is passionate about sharing stories that show the positive interactions between individuals and businesses that occur every day in our communities - interactions that inspire hope and motivate community growth. She has used this passion to share stories through a variety of media outlets - from television to radio to traditional newspaper to digital news. When she's not writing, Gabe stays busy running her own videography and social media management business in Northern Michigan, caring for her two furkids (Watson the siamese cat and Holmes the Corgi), spending time with her husband, and tending her garden.