The Cancer Car Program
Proves To Be A Success
Freemasons of British Columbia care about those who are fighting cancer. On April 6th, 1989, they committed to raise one million dollars for, and launched, The Cancer Car Program in the Lower Mainland which has since expanded to Vancouver Island and the Okanagan region where the new Cancer Clinic was completed in Kelowna in 1998.
The Freemasons of British Columbia launched the program to enable cancer patients to get to treatment centres with the minimum amount of difficulty. In 1988 they’d approached the Canadian Cancer Society with the idea—in which a driver would pick up patients from their homes and take them to a treatment centre and back again, or, in the case of out of town patients, from the airport, ferry terminals, or bus depot to the Cancer Society Lodge or other accommodation near the Cancer Clinic at no charge to the patient or the Cancer Society. “Needless to say, such as idea was welcomed with open arms,” said Clark Gilmour, Grand Master of Freemasons in British Columbia and Chairman of the Masonic Community Charities Fund which administers the Freemasons Volunteer Drivers program.
Every Freemason in the Province of British Columbia and the Yukon contributes annually an assessed amount towards the capital fund to purchase the fleet of eleven vehicles to keep the program going—to replace cars, pay for maintenance, gas, insurance, etc., and to provide cellular phones for all the vehicles.
Currently the Freemasons cover an area that includes Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody on the Lower Mainland, and from Campbell River to Victoria on Vancouver Island as well as Kamloops, Vernon, Merritt and Penticton to Kelowna. To date there are over 1000 volunteers in the program. There are a mix of Freemasons and non-masons involved in the program at any one time.
Since its inception the volunteer drivers, have given generously of their time, have driven over six million kilometers. They work in shifts from 7:00 a.m. to noon, and from noon to 5:00 p.m. On average, the drivers put in one day per week, but some will put in various shifts over three days.
Most volunteers simply want to do something worthwhile, when they have time available, and in doing so achieve great self-satisfaction. “I thoroughly enjoy it,” says Jim Millett, 64, a retired civil servant. Millett says many people have sent him thank-you cards, another bonus of his involvement in the program. Says Millett, “Sometimes people need reassurance. We try to make them feel at ease. Some people too, want to talk about what they’re going through, and others don’t. Everyone’s quite different. You have to be sensitive to what they’re going through.”
“When you pick up the same patients several times you really get to know them, and sometimes this can result in a long-time friendship,” said Clark Gilmour. He sees the compassion and care, given by those in the program, make a difference to the patients, particularly to those who have to attend, say, twenty treatments and progressively feel more tired. The walls of the program’s dispatch office are covered with ‘thank-you‘ cards and patients often bring cookies and cakes to the cars to be shared by the drivers while they are waiting for their return trips.
The reputation of the Volunteer Driver Program has spread through the Cancer Society in North America as well as the masonic fraternity on this continent and in Europe. In 1992 the national board of directors of the Canadian Cancer Society awarded the Freemasons the Citation of Merit Award. So successful is the program that requests have been received from four other Fraternities in Canada and seven in the United States who want to start the program in their areas.
In 1998 the Freemasons Volunteer Driver Program became a reality in Kamloops and started out with 30 volunteer drivers and 1 driver dispatcher. The originally round trip took 10 to 14 hours with 2 drivers. Today we have 130 volunteer drivers and 6 driver dispatchers. Kamloops has the most voluteer drivers in the Province. Now a round trip takes 7 to 8 hours but we still use 2 drivers. Unfortunatly we have had to up size the vehicle we use. We started out with 7 pasanger vans but now operate a 10 passanger van. These vans put on about 100,000 Kl. per year.
Those travelling to Cancer Treatment centres in Kelowna who would like to avail themselves of the service offered by the Freemasons Volunteer Driver Program should phone 1-800-299-0188 or if you live in the lower mainland in Vancouver Toll Free number 1-800-663-2524 to arrange transportation.