Get on the bus

Jonathan Adams hitches a ride on the Seniors Resource Centre’s Grocery Bus.

Every Wednesday morning in St. John’s, a little white bus goes chugging through the city. It sets out from Torbay Road, ducking briefly into Kenny’s Park, then neatly bisects downtown, plunging down Garrison Hill and sailing along New Gower before it swoops to climb to the West End. Maybe you’ve seen it and wondered what business does a little white bus have seeming so intent and glad of purpose every week.

Well, I’ll tell you. The Grocery Bus is a service jointly coordinated through the NL Seniors’ Resource Centre, Bidgood’s Supermarket, and Cook’s Bus and Charter Service. At a cost of $9 per trip, any senior citizen living in the greater St. John’s area can board the bus (which will come to their front door to pick them up) and ride out to The Goulds to buy all their groceries which will be loaded into the bus for them, then carried into their homes after they’ve been safely returned.
Dainty ladies climb aboard at Southview Manor or Masonic Park in their elegant knitted winter hats and you don’t have to wait too long before each row of seats is alive with the buzz of friendly conversation.
“I have sun in my apartment all day long. Sunrises in the morning and sunsets in the evening. Very nice, you know.”
“Oh yes, I get that too.”
“Then you get the moon shining in the window at night.”
“My son, he’d rather play golf than eat.”
“Is that right?”
“Yes. Do you have children?”
And so forth. The Grocery Bus program first came to our attention via Jill Barron’s article in last winter’s Food Security Network newsletter. Barron was the program coordinator at that time and wrote lovingly of her weekly bus trips as if they were every bit as noisy and jubilant as a primary school field trip. “Everyone has their role,” Barron wrote. “Some choose to entertain, others are quietly wise, some are mischievous, while others are always in place.” (The Grocery Bus has even been the subject of a NIFCO film by Linda Fitzpatrick.)
The bus’s passengers are also in agreement that one of the greatest appeals of the Grocery Bus is the opportunity to socialize. “Everybody knows everybody else,” says Edith Collins. “Even if I didn’t need groceries, I think I’d go just for the friendship.” Some have other available means to buy their groceries, but prefer to use the Grocery Bus. “I have lots of children who could take me, but this is nicer,” says Joan Ryan. “When you go with your children, you know, you can still sort of hear them saying ‘C’mon, mother, hurry up now.’ But here I can take my time.”
The present coordinator of the Grocery Bus program is Clarice Cole, who gets help from her assistant Andrew Moody. Both of them know the name of every person who boards the bus and treat each passenger as a dear old friend of long and cherished acquaintance.
The Seniors’ Resource Centre is served by close to 500 volunteers across the province. Their other programs include the Mallwalkers Club, Lifelong Learners (classes in computer skills and other subjects), Friendly Visiting (in which volunteers visit seniors in their homes), Cultural Learning (seniors learn to cook ethnic foods at the Hindu Temple) and the Friday Friendship Club (weekly meetings with guest speakers, bridge, and other sociable activities).

If you know of a senior who might enjoy taking part in any of these programs or to become a volunteer yourself, contact the Seniors’ Resource Centre at 737-2333.