Metro Mobility drivers take on new roles during COVID-19 crisis

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Metro Mobility drivers are stepping into new roles as the COVID-19 outbreak continues.

About a week ago, Harry Ratliff started delivering food to people throughout the Twin Cities.

“I love helping people,” he said. “I jumped at it and said, ‘Yeah, I got to do this.’ I’m very glad I did.”

He makes more than a dozen trips every day, bringing food shelf items to those who need it.

“The response has been overwhelming,” said Ratliff. “Many of the people I’m delivering to never thought they would be in this situation.”

The Metropolitan Council has partnered with 25 food shelves, serving nearly 1,100 families already.

It started with free grocery deliveries at the end of March. Drivers went to the store and picked up orders made by Metro Mobility customers, who have disabilities or health problems.

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“Some of the most vulnerable people to COVID so we wanted to limit their trips if possible,” said Nick Thompson Director of Metropolitan Transportation Services.

They still have about 10 to 20 grocery deliveries every day but he said the food shelf program has become more popular, with about 280 deliveries every day.

“We’re happy to provide this service,” said Thompson. “We’ll provide it as long as we need to and have demand for it. We want to serve Minnesotans during this time of emergency.”

On Monday, Metro Mobility drivers also started providing free rides to and from work for essential health care workers.

Thompson said they saw a need when Metro Transit services were reduced in response to the crisis.

“We started hearing some people were having a hard time getting to their work,” he said. “We have the ability to do this because we’ve had a reduction in ridership in our Metro Mobility services with the ‘stay at home’ order and trips limited to essential trips.”

“We had enough buses and drivers available to provide this so we thought it was a perfect match for those working on the front lines fighting COVID,” he added.

It’s also helping essential health care workers who already relied on Metro Mobility.

“I think I felt a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude,” said Angela Folie, who uses the service. “Every little bit of help during this time is very much appreciated. Riding every day, five days a week, does add up and during this time it’s nice to see that the community and different agencies are pulling together any way they can to help out.”

Folie is a clinical psychologist at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, working with those at an in-patient rehabilitation unit.

“That have had spinal cord injuries, strokes, traumatic brain injuries and those things are still going to happen even though COVID-19 is going on,” she said. “I’ll be coming in for as long as I can.”

Within hours of launching the service on Monday, 80 trips were booked for health care workers. The number of trips grew to 230 by Wednesday.

“We’ve started by targeting health care, if we see that we still have the capacity to deliver to other essential workers, we’ll expand it,” said Thompson.

Ratliff said he plans to look into helping with those rides as well. He’s urging everyone to do what they can to assist others.

“Look to your neighbor and say, ‘Hey, how are you doing? How’s it going over there?’” said Ratliff. “It may not be food, it may be helping with day care with all of the children are home. There’s a lot of things you can do to help other people.”

“We will get through this, I’m 1,000% sure we will get through this," he added. "My message is hold on, be strong and courageous.”

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