PORT TOWNSEND — The Ecumenical Christian Helping Hands Organization (ECHHO) has spent the last quarter century running errands and providing free rides and free medical supplies.
It’s all about helping people who are elderly or disabled continue to live independently, and “it’s been fulfilling work,” said Rich Heitman, one of ECHHO’s few paid employees.
Heitman started as an intern about a decade ago after moving to Port Townsend from the Washington, DC area.
The pandemic has been tough on the agency. For years, volunteers have been driving clients to medical appointments near and far, spending a few hours a week traveling.
“Before COVID, we had about 50 drivers,” said ECHHO board member Dr. David Whitney.
But the pandemic “has brought those numbers down,” he said.
ECHHO needs new volunteers — about a dozen, Heitman said — to join the driving team.
The agency is also looking for a volunteer coordinator.
Drivers take customers to medical appointments in Port Townsend, Sequim, Poulsbo, Silverdale and even Seattle depending on availability, Whitney said. ECHHO reimburses volunteers for fuel and ferry costs.
Before hitting the road, volunteers are carefully screened, Heitman added; they need a good driving record, car insurance and a reliable vehicle.
Volunteer drivers must be fully vaccinated, including a booster, and they must wear a mask when indoors, including inside the car.
For more information, call the ECHHO office at 360-379-3246 or email [email protected]. The office is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday while the website, www.echhojc.org, has further details of services, including free medical equipment for home use and free rides and races.
Time spent with an elderly client is a rewarding experience for the volunteer, Heitman said. That person in the car with you has “had a long and interesting life… You make a new friend,” he said.
ECHHO, whose office is at 1110 Jefferson St., has continued to grow thanks to the support of local organizations and individual donors, according to the history page on its website. Contributors include the Jefferson Community Foundation, Jefferson Healthcare, Olympic Area Agency on Aging, Port Townsend Rotary, and Edensaw Community Cancer Foundation.
In addition to rides to appointments, ECHHO provides plenty of supplies from its two wards full of things like wheelchairs, special beds, raised toilet seats and walkers, Whitney added.
“We have everything,” he said.
Jefferson County Senior Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]