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Free Rides for Seniors expands service in Aspinwall, Blawnox and Sharpsburg

| Tuesday, June 30, 2015, 10:39 a.m.
Jan Pakler | For Trib Total Media
The St. Margaret Foundation Free Rides for Seniors shuttle picks up local residents at the Waterworks Mall after shopping on Monday, June 29, 2015. The foundation increased the service area of free rides with an increase in funding.

Sharpsburg Towers resident Audrey Clark said she “thanks the good Lord every day” for free shuttle service provided for Lower Valley senior citizens.

A minivan, funded by the St. Margaret Foundation and North Hills Community Outreach, provides rides for Clark and other senior citizens in Aspinwall, Blawnox and Sharpsburg to medical appointments, grocery stores and lunch dates.

“There's no way I could make these visits without that bus,” said Clark, 79, whose vision is failing and does not drive.

The shuttle is used more than 6,500 times each year for trips, St. Margaret Foundation President Mary Lee Gannon said.

Gannon last week announced the foundation again would pay $40,000 for the Free Rides program to operate, as well as expand its funding to include about $150,000 for three more shuttles with farther reach.

The foundation will pay about $40,000 for a Free Rides shuttle for senior citizens living between Etna and Tarentum who need medical-related transportation from senior-living facilities such as the Etna Commons, Springdale Manor and Munroe Tower in Oakmont. Riders will be taken to and from UPMC St. Margaret, near Aspinwall, and other UPMC facilities across the Allegheny Valley.

“The purpose is to help senior citizens remain independent, safe and healthy in their own homes rather than in assisted living or nursing care,” Gannon said.

A third shuttle will operate for residents of any age who need a lift between UPMC St. Margaret and other UPMC diagnostic centers along the Route 28 corridor to Harrison, and a fourth shuttle will be wheelchair accessible and used to transport patients to and from nursing facilities.

Aspinwall resident Diane Mercer said a bad back prevents her from driving. She uses the program to meet friends for lunch, pick up prescriptions and shop for food.

“I miss just being able to get up and go,” Mercer said. “But this program has been wonderful. We have fun on the shuttle talking and laughing.

“This program and all involved are a godsend.”

Gannon said the grants are part of more than $527,000 to be distributed over the next year by the foundation.

Other money is slated to help administer flu shots, expand waiting rooms at UPMC St. Margaret and provide services to help senior citizens remain at home.

“When your health is compromised, you may all of a sudden be struggling with the biggest challenge of your life,” Gannon said.

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2, or tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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