Living in an isolated, rural environment such as Picture Rocks has its advantages, but it also has some major drawbacks for those without transportation.

That's why 64-year-old Picture Rocks resident Chuck Strauss, who doesn't have a car, is so grateful to Interfaith Community Services for letting him hitch a ride once a week.

Picture Rocks is an unincorporated community near Saguaro National Park West and North Sandario Road. The area is spread out, with few places to buy food, especially perishables. ICS helps Picture Rocks residents who lack vehicles get around to doctor's appointments, banks and grocery stores.

For Strauss, who is on a fixed income, the prospect of buying a car is out of reach.

"If I had a car, I wouldn't be able to live a decent life," he said.

It costs Strauss $35 each way to take a taxi ride to the closest grocery store, bank or medical office. Strauss had grown accustomed to making a monthly excursion to Fry's or Walmart - usually scheduled around a doctor's visit - and stocking up on groceries. ICS has considerably reduced his costs and allowed him to change his shopping philosophy.

"This way I can go when I don't have a doctor's appointment, and get fresh fruit and vegetables," he said. "When I don't have transportation, I can only buy what I can carry. This makes it really nice. They come pick me up. We go to the grocery store. I also got to get some banking done. It saves me money and I eat better."

Doug and Nancy Cassidy, a husband and wife duo who are both 66, drove Strauss to Fry's at 7870 N. Silverbell Road on April 19.

"Both Nancy and I are retired, and we've got to do something to be useful in retirement," Doug Cassidy said. "It's a matter of personal satisfaction. We very much like being able to give rides to other people. They are very interesting people."

ICS has provided free rides to seniors and disabled people in Pima County since 1985 - helping more than 25,000 people a year in various ways - and the Picture Rocks initiative is an expansion of the program, which includes more than 160 volunteers. The program focuses on low-income seniors and adults with disabilities who struggle with transportation.

Late last year ICS received a $38,000 minivan to expand the services, thanks to grants from the Arizona Department of Transportation. ICS paid about $4,000 of the cost out of private donations.

The Care-a-Van is equipped with a ramp and has room for wheelchairs and walkers. ICS brings the van to Picture Rocks for group rides as many as four times a week.

Volunteers undergo training designed by the National Rural Transit Assistance Program and help residents carry out their errands in addition to driving them around.

Bonnie Kampa, ICS executive director, said the organization carefully matches volunteers with riders, ensuring the volunteers are aware of, and trained, to help the riders with their needs.

She said ICS is reaching out to Picture Rocks residents in need, attempting to break through boundaries of pride or mistrust to help shut-ins meet their needs.

Strauss said he was overjoyed to find strawberries at Fry's. He filled his cart with lettuce, tomatoes and frozen dinners.

"I'm still overbuying," he said with a chuckle. "I'm used to buying for a month at a time, so it's hard to ratchet it down."

Strauss, who has advocated several failed efforts to procure public transportation in the underserved area, credited ICS for stepping in where the government would not.

"This is a step in the right direction," he said, adding that he hopes others in need start taking advantage of the service. "I'm really hoping that as Interfaith comes in, people will learn they don't bite."

Find out more

Picture Rocks residents who are interested in using the Interfaith Community Services Care-a-Van should call Dot Esler at 903-3912.

Those interested in volunteering or using the van's services in other areas of town can call Pamela Xeele, ICS transportation assistant, at 297-2738, Ext. 220, after 1 p.m. on weekdays.

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or