Miami-Dade County

Young Jewish professionals launch crowdsourcing fundraiser to buy new buses for bubbies

Rita Grossman’s lifeline to the outside world is a white mini-bus with big, blue letters that announce: Jewish Community Services of South Florida ... Senior Ride.

“I don’t know what I would do without it,” said Grossman, 88, of Miami Beach. She points to her cane propped in the corner of a South Beach community center: “If I wanted to walk anywhere with that, I’d have to start at 8 a.m. and just keep going.”

Like Grossman, there are hundreds of elderly in Miami Beach and elsewhere who depend on JCS’ door-to-door transportation to ferry them to meal sites, doctors’ appointments and grocery stores. But there aren’t enough buses and a couple of those already on the road need to be retired.

That’s why the JCS Alliance, a group of young professionals affiliated with the JCS, came up with the fundraising project, New Wheels for Bubbie. And they’re trying a new technique: crowdfunding, the very modern way of raising small amounts from a lot of people through the Internet. Think 21st century technology meets the very traditional needs of the World War II generation.

“We grew up with this technology,” said Rachel Adler Schapiro, a JCS Alliance member, “and now we’re using it to give back to our grandparents’ generation.”

The Alliance needs to raise $18,000 by Sept. 30 so the JCS Senior Ride Program can receive the matching $165,000 grant from Florida’s Department of Transportation. That money will go to replace two of the program’s six obsolete buses. Each bus can carry 16 to 20 passengers, depending on the retrofitting needed to accommodate disabled riders.

Hinda Adler, one of the Alliance’s three co-chairs, said a member who had previously used crowdfunding suggested the method last month. “It’s a natural,” she said. “We all use social media. We know all about it.”

Within a week, the Alliance had 48 funders and the number kept growing — 58 funders had donated $6,806 by July 29. “We’d rather get 1,000 $5 donations instead of one $5,000 donation — although we’ll take the $5,000, too,” Adler said. “It’s a way of reaching out to more people to give them the experience of giving something back.”

The Senior Ride Program serves 348 seniors in Miami-Dade, mostly JCS clients but also those who use other social service agencies, including Catholic Charities. Most live in housing for low-income families. They cannot afford a car or have already surrendered their driver’s licenses. Often times they can’t walk to a public bus stop, and taxis are too expensive.

“The buses are busy all day,” said Ela Goldfarb, JCS vice president, senior adult division. “They run eight hours a day and they’re always full. If these seniors didn’t have this, they probably would have no other way of getting here.”

Edna Amazeen, 89, confirmed this. “Who would pick me up? Who would take me home? No one has time for that anymore. I’d be stuck at home.”

And being stuck at home, Goldfarb said, means “they get isolated, they get depressed and they get sick. It’s a bad cycle.”

A new mini-bus costs about $85,000 — and that’s one of the least-expensive models. Once the two older buses are replaced, Goldfarb hopes one of them might be put back on the road to help hard-to-reach seniors like 84-year-old Judith Feiner of Belle Isle, whose Metrobus route on the Venetian Causeway was suspended when county officials imposed stricter weight restrictions on the old bridge in April. Now she has to walk several blocks to reach a bus stop — a task that has become increasingly difficult after a fall sent her to the emergency room about two months ago.

“I just want a bus,” she said plaintively. “It’s the only way I can get out. This is where I see my friends.”

For many seniors, the daily trip to a congregate meal site is their only social connection. “It’s not just a meal they get here,” Goldfarb said. “It’s exercise after lunch. It’s friends. It’s a way of getting them out.”

At the Miami Beach South Shore Community Center on Sixth Street, Adler and Schapiro interviewed seniors last week while Marian Mendelsohn, JCS director of special projects, videoed and photographed the interaction. As the smell of lunch wafted through the center, seniors posed for the camera. They talked about the importance of both the hot meal program and the bus service.

Clips were later posted at http://jewcer.com/project/new-wheels-for-bubbie, the crowdfunding site. But when asked if they knew anything about crowdfunding or about social media’s quick and easy way to spread the message to others, the seniors blinked, shrugged or stared away blankly. No matter. The inability to understand the mystery of our wired society doesn’t bother the Alliance members.

“If not for them,” Adler said, “there would be no us.”

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