Helping the homeless: Retired ambulances meet hard-to-see needs

Carle Arrow Ambulance vehicles rarely hit the scrap yard right after their days and nights of transporting patients and the paramedics and EMTs who provide their pre-hospital care. 

One past-its-prime ambulance recently found a second life helping others—this time the homeless in Champaign County who benefit from the food, necessities and fellowship the Champaign-Urbana Canteen Run provides.

“Our ambulances stay in service for five or six years. Then we give them to Carle maintenance staff or we donate them to those in need,” said Jimmy Zindars, Carle Arrow Operations manager. “Over the years we’ve donated units to Danville Police and area fire departments, and this is our second donation to the Salvation Army to help support the Canteen Run.”

Barb and Dan Davies co-founded the Canteen Run 11 years ago. Both had served on committees related to helping homeless people.

They knew the need was great.

And they wanted to help as many people as possible by meeting them around town.

“We tried it one night, and we never looked back,” Dan said, giving his wife her due. “Barb is the heartbeat of this. She gets our volunteer drivers and people to hand out food and supplies.

“She makes it all possible.”

Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons, small armies of volunteers hand out peanut butter sandwiches, proteins bars and water. They provide blankets, coats, socks, t-shirts and other necessities.

The vehicle from Carle Arrow Ambulance was just the right solution at just the right time.

“It was meant to be. That very week our other vehicle ended up being too bad to fix,” Dan said. “The cabinets in it work beautifully. What used to house paramedics’ supplies now supports our ministry.”

Canteen Run organizers help open the eyes of new volunteers all the time.

“It’s really a dual ministry. We’re helping people who live on the streets, but we’re also ministering to the volunteers inside the vehicle,” he said.

“It changes them. They see clearly that this is happening right here in Champaign County.”

And they act accordingly.

“We encourage our volunteers to get out, to engage with people. They come to our truck because they’re treated equally, like one of us,” Dan said.

For short trips around town laden with donated supplies, the older vehicles get the job done.

Zindars said Arrow’s ambulances in busier areas of the region usually put on more than 50,000 miles per year. They get oil changes and other routine maintenance monthly.

Dan and Barb Davies are grateful for their well-maintained saving grace.

“Without a vehicle, this would be extremely difficult if not impossible,” Dan said.