Years ahead of schedule, senior center fundraising allows van purchase

There was a little bit of news during the announcements Wednesday at the senior center and it did not start out particularly good.

Senior Center Director Sue Hilberg began by telling the seniors, dozens of whom arrived via the senior center’s aging van, that there was some bad news: the 12-year-old van had finally died and they weren’t sure how they were going to get people home.

Hilberg said there were gasps and conversations immediately broke out as their faces lit up with panic.

After a few tense minutes, Hilberg told the seniors not to worry, they had a solution.

At that moment, Senior Center Aide and van drive Phil DeLeo pulled around the building revealing the center’s brand new van, bought in large part with money raised by the seniors themselves.

As she pointed to the windows, the room broke out in cheers, though she admits it was tense for a second there as DeLeo’s timing wasn’t quite perfect.

“It was not a popular way to do it,” Hilberg said with a laugh and sly smile.

Perhaps not, but the new van is popular among the seniors, who in January 2011 launched a fundraising campaign to speed the replacement of their old van, which was getting up in years and, more importantly, mileage.

“Our van that we have now has served its purpose,” Hilberg said of the old van with more than 180,000 miles on it. “It just aged out.”

Collecting money in mostly small donations from the seniors and guests to the center, as well as through fundraisers like bake sales, rummage sales and bingo, the Bonney Lake seniors raised close to $24,000, about one-third the cost of the vehicle.

With the money in hand, the city was able to purchase the new van a few years ahead of its replacement schedule.

“It’s remarkable how much we’ve raised,” Hilberg said.

Hilberg said the new van means the “continuation of services” at the center.

“It allows us to go out and get the seniors from the community,” Hilberg said, adding that many of seniors who come to the center rely on the van and the center to get them out of their homes and add some fun to their days.

DeLeo said that Wednesday, the day of the new van’s reveal, he put 126 miles on the van just picking up 34 seniors to bring them to the center. He said it would have been even more, but one of the regulars called to say she could not make it in that day.

That kind of mileage adds up and requires maintenance, which was beginning to get out of hand for the senior center. Since 2003, more than $38,000 has been spent on repairs to the van.

But with a new van ready to roll, the senior center is hoping that is no longer an issue.

The new van is also built specifically for the needs of the center and includes higher-back seats, luggage racks and even a button to slide the aisle seats slightly out once the bus is loaded, creating a little more room between seats once everyone is aboard.

“It’ll be nice for longer trips,” DeLeo said.

Final touches are being put on the new van, including the search for a bug Hilberg called a “ghost” that seems to randomly open and close the new electronic door, but the hope is to have it on the road within two weeks.

Hilberg thanked the seniors and the community for donating and said though the van is now here, the fundraising would continue to take care of other needs. Up next: saving money for new kitchen equipment.

Hilberg said even after the van was revealed, several seniors wanted to continue contributing. Nearly all of the money for the van was raised through small donations, though the center did receive a &7,500 grant from the Muckleshoot Tribe of Indians and a few anonymous larger checks.

“I am just so impressed with the senors int his community,” Hilberg said. “They see the need and they just donate.”