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Volunteer is driving force behind fundraiser

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Ernest “Shuby” DeGrilla is out on the road rain or shine, when most of us are asleep.

For the past 15 years he's been behind the wheel of the Project Action bus. It's not unusual for the 76-year-old to be up, driving seniors and the physically challenged, at 3am. The long-time volunteer is now asking for a favour of his own.

He wants Bermuda to get behind a major fundraiser launched by Project Action this month. The charity is hoping to raise $150,000 by the end of April, so it can buy two new vans to meet demand.

“[David] Barber donated the buses to the seniors in memory of his wife, Mary,” said Mr DeGrilla. “The buses now are up in age and pretty well deteriorating. We need some help.”

Project Action has provided seniors and the physically challenged with more than 15,000 free rides since it received the late philanthropist's gift.

“[We are] planning to purchase two new vans to meet important transport routes,” said founding director Cindy Swan. “Project Action provides a critical service to the mobility challenged, enabling them to get to their medical appointments, grocery shopping and especially to dialysis treatments.

“In order to keep the wheels rolling for another decade, [we've launched an appeal] to cover the East and West ends of Bermuda. Project Action is the only such service in Bermuda that provides transportation services Island-wide to those in dire need. It assists people whose families are unable to provide transportation for them. This includes services to the physically challenged, who would otherwise not be able to get to work because of the lack of transportation for them.”

It's Mr DeGrilla's face they see most mornings.

“We're [especially] busy with dialysis,” he said. “I'm there some mornings at 3.30am, 4am delivering people to dialysis. While they're on the machines, I'm doing other medical runs — to [King Edward VII Memorial Hospital] and the lab and different departments.

“Mondays, I'm busy with Westmeath [Residential & Nursing Care Home]. I bring a bunch of ladies in for shopping, visits to the dentist, to get their hair done, whatever. On other days I'm busy picking up folks that are confined to wheelchairs and doing voluntary work for Age Concern; the bus never stops. It often goes from 3.30am til two in the afternoon.”

The Bermuda Red Cross will often pick up the slack when demand is too high or he's unable to assist, Mr DeGrilla said.

“They will get [people] to the hospital for me. I can usually get them back home but they might have to sit in the bus for a tour [while I drop others off first].”

The former IBC driver was in retirement when he learnt the charity was searching for someone to help with transportation.

“I live on Euclid Avenue and the bus was purchased around the corner, at Eurocar Ltd. [Owner Richard Davidge] knew I was retired.

“I was home, working in my garden, when he came by and said they were looking for a driver. I told him to call Cindy Swan and ask her to call if she wanted an interview. A week later I got a call asking me to come in and I've been with it ever since.

“I've learnt more about Bermuda than I ever knew in my life. I've been on roads, in areas a lot of Bermudians have never been in.

“I really enjoy doing it. I used to get old-timers on the bus and I would take them on tour to see whales on the South Shore, I used to take them grocery shopping; I can't do that anymore, I'm so busy with medical work. Bermuda is overrun with dialysis patients. In the mornings, there are about 30 people there from all over Bermuda — Somerset to St George's.”

It's been a real learning experience, Mr DeGrilla added.

“It's sad, but I enjoy it. I've met some wonderful people,” he said.

“I've also learnt that every day is a new day. You don't know when sickness is going to hit you. I'm often parked in front of the Dialysis Unit, sitting there waiting for patients. I've never seen so many people with walking sticks; young boys too. It's been a real eye-opener.

“We're losing [patients] every day. It's a sad story. Sometimes I don't realise they're gone until I pick up the newspaper.

“Some of the families get so tied up they forget to call me. I just want to give the Dialysis Unit a big plug. There are super people there.”

The bus is now off the road for annual repairs. Project Action hopes it's only a short time before replacements are found. “We are encouraging the public to support this important appeal,” said Mrs Swan. “Contributions large and small are welcome.”

To donate, telephone Mrs Swan on 535-9801 or Rose Douglas on 297-5044 or send an e-mail, projectaction@northrock.bm.

Donations can be made online at Butterfield Bank, account #20006060282255100.

We need some help: Project Action volunteer Ernest “Shuby” DeGrilla. The charity is hoping to raise $150,000 to buy two new buses (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Critical service: volunteer Ernest DeGrilla helps Francis Jeffers, 69, on to the charity's bus (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published December 30, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 30, 2015 at 12:19 pm)

Volunteer is driving force behind fundraiser

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