The Pinellas County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Attorney James Flynn has teamed up to launch a free shuttle service for residents aged 55 years and up. It transports seniors to essential appointments and stops in the Greater St. Petersburg area, such as the doctor’s office, pharmacy, bank and grocery store.
It is the brainchild of Jeff Copeland, executive director of the SCLC, but he stated that it could not have been possible without the support of Flynn, the “Southside Lawyer.”
“James and I sat down and we talked,” Copeland explained. “I came up with the idea, but he said: ‘this is what I’ll do: I’ll buy the vehicles, I’ll insure them, and I’ll take care of all the gas.’ When you have people in the community that fill the need like he is and show the desire to help people, that’s an awesome feeling!”
Mayor Rick Kriseman is an enthusiastic supporter of the new service, but because of a scheduling conflict he was unable to perform his shuttling duties on the inaugural run this Tues., April 8. With one car and one van, the operation currently has a modest fleet but Copeland said that could change if the demand becomes evident over time.
“Maybe a year from now we’ll have 10 vans and 10 buses, but the key to the whole thing is we want it to always be free,” he stressed.
He also noted that the availability of ready and available transportation can affect seniors in many aspects of their lives, including their health.
“Sometimes you’re driving down the road and you see every person sitting at a bus stop with one grocery bag with only two pieces of groceries because they have to carry it on the bus,” he said, “then they have to carry it home so they have to make three or four different trips. And they can’t eat how they would like because they can’t shop the way they want.”
Copeland also explained that some seniors even miss doctor’s appointments due to their difficulty in coordinating their outings with the rigid bus schedules. Copeland and the SCLC hope the new operation fills this gap in the community.
“If people would like to donate their time, we’ll accept it,” he said, adding that among the supporters and volunteers is prominent St. Pete attorney Al Rosenthal.
The “Southside Lawyer Service” currently runs Monday through Friday, and seniors must give two days advance notice for rides by calling (727) 534-9291.
Copeland feels the shuttle service will catch on quickly with seniors. He’s hoping a few churches within the city will pitch in and donate the use of one of their buses a few days out of the month.
“Seniors have really paved the way for the generation that I come from,” Copeland affirmed, “so we need to do whatever we can to assist them in the best way we can. We all have family members that could utilize this service. We did it because it’s close to our hearts.