I want to share a heart-warming message we received recently from Mary Ellen Stone, one of the frequent users of the Community Thread circulator bus: “Once again, Community Thread has reached out beyond its four walls to bring the community together. The Connector Loop, which operates from 10am – 3pm on Mondays, has enriched many lives by enabling those in our community to shop for food (either at a local retailer or at Valley Outreach), attend doctor’s appointments, meet friends and visit downtown Stillwater. In my case, I use the Loop to get to Community Thread to volunteer, and I would be unable to do this if not for the service.”

According to the Washington County Transit Needs Study (April 2017), on average, 3.5% of county residents do not have access to a vehicle. Community meetings revealed that residents want to travel to retailers, jobs, schools, community centers, libraries and courts. Lack of transportation becomes a real barrier to accessing basic needs, including getting food and medical care. It also keeps non-drivers from staying engaged in community life, like volunteering and socializing, proven to be good habits to aging well.

The Community Thread Connector Loop, which started service in late October 2018 as a one-year contract through DARTS, is sponsored by Allina Health – Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, City of Oak Park Heights, Lakeview Hospital, Rotary Club of Stillwater and United Way Washington County-East.

The bus makes scheduled stops at housing complexes including Rivertown Commons, Ann Bodlovick Apartments, Oak Park Senior Living, Raymie Johnson Estates, Green Twig Villas, Boutwells Landing and Hillcrest Apartments. Residents of Birchwood Commons may board the bus at the First Presbyterian Church.

Mary Ellen went on to share: “Since the Loop was established, I have seen ridership steadily increase and have enjoyed the camaraderie among the riders. I contact DARTS for an on-demand stop since I live within a 2 block radius of one of the regular stops. I am looking forward to taking the Loop into downtown Stillwater in the spring to enjoy yet another advantage of the service. Thank you Community Thread and its community partners for making the Connector Loop possible.”   

According to a recent survey of the riders using the loop, shopping for food was the top reason riders use the bus. In partnership with Valley Outreach, riders who want to access the food shelf services may call 651-430-2739 to make an appointment for a Monday afternoon visit. According to Tracy Maki, CEO at Valley Outreach, “we want it to be as easy as possible for folks to get the food they need and the bus can make it simple.”

Accessing medical services is another benefit of the bus loop. With stops at Lakeview Hospital, Stillwater Medical Group and Courage Kenny, riders can visit healthcare facilities. The first day of bus service, one rider used it to get Lakeview Hospital for a medical appointment. She said the hospital staff coordinated her loop ride with an appropriate appointment time so that she could travel without having to rely on family for transportation.

The bus schedule and a map showing the two block radius for riders to be picked up at their home is available at www.CommunityTheadmn.org. There are no sign up requirements and riders of all ages and income levels are welcome to use the circulator loop, keeping our community connected to vital services and opportunities to stay engaged. Sponsors for year two of the service are being secured over the next four months. Contact me at Sally@communitythreadmn.org for more information.

By: Sally Anderson