June 27, 2020 — Idle since mid-March because of the COVID-19 crisis, the Friends of Florence buses, which have long provided free rides for coastal cancer patients to the Eugene-Springfield area for radiation treatments, will start rolling again on Monday, July 6.
“I know it has been a hardship for many people in Florence and surrounding areas who are dealing with cancer to have to find their own way to the valley for their radiation sessions,” said Tom Grove, board chairman of the non-profit Friends of Florence organization. “But because of the virus we had to cease operations both for the safety of the passengers and our volunteer drivers.”
It has also been distressing, he said, for the drivers and other volunteers in the Friends group not to be able to carry on the mission of the organization founded in 1985, which has carried more than 30,000 passengers and logged nearly 1.4 million miles of service.
The pandemic caused the Friends of Florence to cease operations for the first time in its 35-year history.
“Now we believe that we have come up with a plan that will keep everyone safe and allow us to continue our mission,” Grove said.
Under the plan, devised by Friends of Florence operations chief Bart Mealer, the five-day-a-week bus trips will differ markedly from those in the past.
For starters, the 15-passenger buses will carry no more than four passengers in addition to the driver. The seating arrangement will be laid out so everyone on the bus is at least six feet apart. Each person including the driver will be required to wear a face covering.
Other measures include:
In the past, the bus has taken patients for radiation treatment to both the Willamette Valley Cancer Institute in Eugene and the Oregon Urology Institute in Springfield. For the foreseeable future the bus will go only to the Cancer Institute in Eugene, which will coordinate with the Friends of Florence to schedule the riders.
The nonprofit Friends of Florence group, which owns two buses and operates entirely on donations and grants, is in the process of purchasing a considerable amount of new equipment to allow operations to resume, Mealer said.
That equipment ranges from masks and sanitizing wipes to an $850 hand-held electrostatic sprayer to disinfect the seats.
Money from the Florence Van Fans, a separate organization dedicated to raising funds for the Friends of Florence operations, will help with the extra expenses, Grove said.
For more information about riding the bus, volunteering to drive or making donations, contact Grove at 541-997-8629 or Mealer at 541-997-8663, or go to the organization website at friendsofflorence.net.