Keeping the Wheels Moving at Whistlestop
Mechanic Juan Gonzalez in Whistlestop's new facility for its vans / photo by Eric Slomanson
It's impossible to drive anywhere in Marin without seeing the familiar white vans operated by Whistlestop. They represent the "wheels" part of the organization's slogan, "Meals, Wheels, and More."
Each year, the agency's 55 vehicles provide 148,000 rides to the County's older adults and people with disabilities — including 23,000 rides for people in wheelchairs. The vans take them to medical appointments and stores and to visit family and friends, with the added benefit of helping them connect with others and avoid isolation.
Behind the scenes, the maintenance of this fleet requires an efficient and safe facility — something that until recently didn't exist. Drivers, schedulers, and mechanics worked out of several different locations — some cramped, some not safe, and none located conveniently to coordinate administration, operations, and maintenance.
When an ideal single facility became available, Whistlestop approached the Marin Community Foundation about a bridge loan to finance the remodeling — which ended up costing more than the original estimate.
The loan, in the amount of $165,000, helped the agency remodel the building, resulting in a state-of-the-art maintenance facility and more efficient administration of the program. But the real impact, according to Whistlestop executive director Joe O'Hehir was "much more reliable and faster service for our riders."
"We're focused on helping people improve the quality of their lives and easing their isolation and the more efficiently we run this service, the more that can happen," he says. "And our staff — drivers, schedulers, and mechanics — are now more organized, cohesive, and happier."
MCF's loan officer, Marc Rand, says this is exactly the kind of project the Foundation's loan fund was designed for. "They had an immediate need for cash in order to take advantage of a building that became available. The results are felt by the dedicated staff at Whistlestop as well as by the thousands of riders they help. It's exciting to see what a big impact a loan can make."
The Marin Community Foundation Loan Fund provides short- and long-term financing for a wide range of important nonprofit endeavors in Marin, including affordable housing, environmental protection, and arts education, among many others. For more information, visit the Loan Fund page.