MANITOWANING – Sandy Cook, who spearheaded the successful Angel Bus that services the needs of Western Manitoulin seniors by giving them a means of transportation, is hoping to find an eastern Manitoulin champion who might put a second Angel Bus on the road.

Ms. Cook attended a recent meeting of Assiginack council with plans to also visit the Northeast Town and Tehkummah councils later this month.

Ms. Cook explained to council that the Angel Bus is a wheelchair accessible van that, since April 2015, has been providing free-of-charge transportation to residents of the Manitoulin Lodge in Gore Bay, as well as to adults of Western Manitoulin Island who have difficulty getting in and out of a regular passenger vehicle safely. People may qualify to use the Angel Bus because of mobility issues, balance problems, various stages of dementia or any number of other reasons. 

“By averaging over 90 outings per year, Angel Bus patrons can receive medical care, attend community functions and lead more enriched, normalized lives in our communities,” Ms. Cook explained. 

“When my father was a resident of Manitoulin Lodge, I would take him on daily outings for country drives, errands, picnics, but most importantly, ice cream cones,” Ms. Cook continued. “The positive effects of getting out and doing things as part of his care were very apparent. It was also very apparent that most other residents lacked similar opportunities. After Dad died, I stayed on at the Lodge as a volunteer and, with the activity director’s nudging, spearheaded the Angel Bus Committee. While it’s no small feat, I’m here to tell you it’s doable, very successful and sustainable.”

Ms. Cook told members of council that the person responsible for the Angel Bus needs to study and obtain a Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration (CVOR). The CVOR is required to operate a commercial vehicle—one that has a gross weight over 4,500 kg or seats 10 or more passengers. To ensure Angel Bus drivers only need a regular, G-class licence, the Angel Bus does not have seating for more than nine passengers. The operator responsibilities include conduct of the drivers, mechanical safety and condition of the vehicle, passenger safety, as well as keeping records and training, she explained.

Ms. Cook stressed that to receive adequate donations, “it’s very important to be able to issue charitable tax receipts.” 

The Angel Bus is owned by Gore Bay Manitoulin Lodge Auxiliary Inc., a non-profit registered charity since 2002, whose purpose and objectives are “to advance the social, recreational, athletic, cultural, leisure and spiritual interests of senior citizens and individuals in need of long-term and palliative care, aged 18 years and older, who are residents of Manitoulin Lodge and other senior citizens who are residents of western Manitoulin Island.”  Ms. Cook thought this perfectly aligned with the need for the Angel Bus. 

“Our first donation of $225 was from St. John’s Anglican Church in Kagawong on December 14, 2014,” Ms. Cook said. “This was followed by $50 from Mary and John Buie; $10,000 from Manitoulin Transport; a matching $10,000 from the Douglas A. Smith Family Foundation so that by the end of 2015, we had over $54,000.”

The first Angel Bus was bought on the classified site Kijiji in the early spring of 2015 for $8,800 plus HST. It was a retired Halton handi-trans bus.  

The Angel Bus’s first outing was on April 22, 2015 and approximately 45 outings were completed that first year, most involving residents of Manitoulin Lodge with community members using the Angel Bus on two occasions. 

In October 2016, the original van was sold. It had over 285,000 km, ongoing electrical problems, was deemed very noisy, but the main issue was it sat people sideways and made some passengers nauseous. 

“However, for less than $10,000 we were able to test the waters and realize this was a much-needed service,” Ms. Cook continued. “Our current Angel Bus, which was bought that October for $38,985, had only 54,000 km on its odometer, was much quieter, the previous snow tires fit, we moved the back up camera and lights over from the old van and passengers faced forward.”

Ms. Cook shared that the Angel Bus averages $36,600 in donations and fundraising each year. Donations of $1,000 or more are recognized with signage on the sides of the Angel Bus for the year of the donation. These supporters are local businesses, churches, service clubs, municipalities, families from in-memoriam donations and in-kind recognition. Last year, the Angel Bus received $7,500 tax-receipted gifts, $16,780 non-receipted gifts and $1,800 recovered in HST. Average yearly expenses are $15,880, which includes insurance, driver abstracts and medicals, fuel, maintenance and repairs. 

“All efforts related to the Angel Bus are done by volunteers,” Ms. Cook continued. “It’s a feel-good, giveback commitment whose importance cannot be underestimated. Currently we have 13 drivers, a dispatcher and five other volunteers on the Angel Bus committee. Our fundraisers include an annual fall dance and summer blueberry social, with quilt raffles and other events rounding out our fundraising activities.”

Ms. Cook shared her concerns with recent changes to the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board non-urgent patient transfer vehicles and the new fee-per-use model that many are finding difficult to afford.

“Similarly, United Manitoulin Islands Transit, a much-needed and well-researched Island transit proposal due to start this year, will not service this niche of adults requiring extra care who still deserve to get out and about to live a full, enriched life,” Ms. Cook added. “Only a second, east end Angel Bus type of transportation will do that.”

Ms. Cook urged council to think of a person or group who might be willing to take on such an endeavor  with her guidance.

“So it would put a bus in our area?” Councillor Hugh Moggy asked.

Ms. Cook replied that the hope is to have a second bus for eastern Manitoulin and that while she would not run it, she hopes that someone will come forward.

Councillor Moggy asked if there was government assistance for the Angel Bus. Ms. Cook replied that there hasn’t been any so far.

“You deserve a lot of credit—well done,” said Mayor Dave Ham.

Councillor Dave McDowell asked about the percentage of users, to which Ms. Cook replied that about 90 percent were Manitoulin Lodge residents. She also noted that most of the trips are Island trips but that a small number go as far as Sudbury.

“So you don’t charge the riders?” queried Councillor Moggy. Ms. Cook said they did not, as this would become an entirely different burden and that the drivers were not interested in handling money.

CAO Alton Hobbs inquired after insurance to which Ms. Cook explained that the Angel Bus insurance falls under an umbrella insurance which covers the Lodge auxiliary and all its events and directors with an insurance premium of about $4,600 a year.

Ms. Cook said she hoped that the Manitoulin Centennial Manor Auxiliary would soon have a charitable number and that they might take this on.

Councillor Christianna Jones noted the two Aging at Home vans through Noojmowin Teg and how needed the service is.

“There’s a huge need,” Ms. Cook reiterated.