It’s 2:12 p.m. on a sunny October afternoon, and Don Manion is rushing out the door of his Coon Rapids home.
He’s got a schedule to keep. His next checkpoint: To arrive at Beverly McDonald’s Anoka apartment complex by exactly 2:25 p.m. Then: Get to the eye doctor’s office no later than 2:40 p.m.
On the days when he zips around the metro area in his black sedan, Manion keeps time with exquisite precision. The 69-year-old retiree is a volunteer driver for MedLink, an Anoka County program that offers rides to seniors, veterans and county social service clients for their medical appointments.
“You need to be on time,” said Manion, checking his wrist watch. “[Passengers] like to get to their appointments 10 minutes early — with time to settle in before they’re called back.”
Drivers like Manion, who get reimbursed for mileage and parking fees, logged nearly 130,000 miles last year. There’s no set fare — just donations. County officials recommend $5 for in-county trips, $10 for elsewhere in the metro area and $20 for destinations like St. Cloud. Donations averaged $2.56 per ride last year.
With a steady uptick in demand, the county-funded program is looking for more volunteers. Thousands of passengers depend on the services of just 62 drivers, some of whom go south for the winter, said Tim Kirchoff, the county’s supervisor of transit operations and planning.
For seniors, the program can be a difference-maker in being able to remain independent at home, Kirchoff added.
Volunteers say the program offers them a service as well. Most are retirees, and the drives bring the welcome chance to swap stories with passengers.
In his 23 years as a volunteer driver, Roland Zacharias has made about 6,000 trips.
“Not once did I have the car radio on,” Zacharias said.
Fishing, music, childhood memories and even car racing have all been popular conservation topics, the Fridley resident said.
“We may be the only people they see or talk to all day,” Zacharias said. “It’s good companionship for both of us.”
For Manion, driving residents like 87-year-ol McDonald to the doctor also began as a way to fill his days after retirement.
“I told my wife I was not going to babysit,” he said.
So instead he turned to Google, keyed in a search and found MedLink — a program he said he hopes is around in the decades to come.
“I’m no spring chick,” he said, “and someday I might need service like this, too.”
Last week marked Manion’s busiest in his 3½ years as a MedLink volunteer. He gave seven rides, including two trips with McDonald.
Before signing up for MedLink, McDonald, of Anoka, had to rely on family for rides, even at inconvenient times.
“My son had to get time off work to take me,” she said.
Now, a MedLink driver is just a call away. Her favorite feature of the program?
“They’re always on time,” she said.