More funding will help the Volunteer Cancer Drivers keep up their service, as their biggest expense, the cost of gas, climbs. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance)

Gas price hikes another obstacle for Lower Mainland’s Volunteer Cancer Drivers

The non-profit group is hoping to find new donors through a fundraising campaign

The cost of gas is hammering a Lower Mainland charity that helps people get to their cancer treatments and doctor appointments.

“We’re running more or less hand to mouth,” said George Garrett, one of the founders of the Volunteer Cancer Drivers Society, a non-profit that organizes almost 200 volunteer drivers along with a crew of 13 volunteer dispatchers.

They will pick up patients at their door, and drive them to hospitals and cancer centres around the Lower Mainland. That can mean short trips, or long hauls from Abbotsford to Vancouver, sometimes on a weekly or even daily basis. Their clients are often elderly, or too sick from their cancer or the treatment for it to drive themselves.

Public transit isn’t a viable option for many, who may have to make lengthy trips that would take hours each way by bus or SkyTrain.

In the absence of steady government funding, Volunteer Cancer Drivers funds itself from a variety of donations and fundraisers.

This year’s budget expenses are forecast to be just over $300,000, with 94 per cent of that going to the drivers themselves to cover the costs of their fuel. Administration and the single, part-time employee is just six per cent of costs.

Due to the increasing cost of gas, the Volunteer Cancer Drivers are increasing their per-kilometre rate from 44 to 48 cents for the volunteers, Garrett said.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it can add up given some of the long-distance trips the patients need to make.

One trip an Abbotsford driver has been making recently adds up to 164 km per round trip, or $78.72 per trip, Garrett said.

Garrett has been working to put the society on a sound financial footing.

“I’m 84 right now, and by the time I’m 90, I’d like to see this self-sufficient,” he said.

On Monday, he was making the rounds in Langley, speaking to Township Mayor Jack Froese, City Mayor Val van den Broek, and Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce executive director Colleen Clark.

He’s hoping to ask local government and corporate sponsors to step up and commit to funding $5,000 to $10,000 a year over a five-year period.

Dubbed the Take Five initiative, it should keep the society running, if enough sponsors can sign up.

One of the biggest opportunities to help fund the society came up recently as Garrett, a retired journalist, was selling copies of his book, Intrepid Reporter.

After lunch with a buyer of the book, Garrett was offered $50,000 a year for five years for the Volunteer Cancer Drivers.

The only catch is they need some matching funding.

That’s one of the main reasons for Garrett returning to Langley, where he’s had some success in the past, getting support from local councils as well as businesses such as the Langley Chrysler dealership, which hosted last year’s car was fundraiser.

The biggest single donor for the society, however, is likely to remain the drivers themselves.

They return 20 to 25 per cent of the mileage reimbursments they’re given, donating it right back to the society, adding up to about $60,000 this year, Garrett said.

For more about the society, including opportunities to volunteer and donate, visit www.volunteercancerdrivers.ca.

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