Nine assisted living homes in West Michigan have enjoyed the ministry of Samaritan’s Carriage, an accessible transportation and excursion service founded by Gary and Eileen Ruiter, for almost 20 years. The trips halted during the COVID-19 pandemic but resumed at the beginning of last month. The Ruiters are members of First Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“Samaritan's Carriage is a blessing all around. The guests are blessed by fellowship and the ‘adventure’ of an outing outside the confines of their living situation; and the volunteers, mostly retirees, are equally blessed by the simple joy of sharing the gift of time and love,” volunteer driver Jim Van Wingerden said.
Modeled after the caring heart of the Good Samaritan, the ministry, according to its website, is “dedicated to bringing joy to those with limited mobility in the greater Grand Rapids, Mich., area.” Samaritan’s Carriage provides “Christian caring and fellowship to heal, encourage, and ease loneliness” with its specially equipped bus, which can lift and seat five guests in wheelchairs.
Van Wingerden is one of a roster of 74 volunteers who serve on a rotating schedule—one driver and five companions riding to assist guests, on six-member teams.
Sara Buchholz, who also attends First CRC, became the ministry’s executive director at the end of 2021. She said the volunteers are members of various area churches including the local Catholic Diocese, First CRC, Westend CRC, and Neland Avenue CRC.
Samaritan’s Carriage designates one day a month as outing day for each of the nine participating residences. Trips have included a visit to the butterfly exhibit at the local Meijer Gardens, the beach, and a greenhouse. The volunteer teams have made 11 trips since starting up again April 5.
Samaritan’s Carriage is run as a nonprofit ministry and provides its outings free of charge to guests. Currently three members of First CRC serve on the six-member Samaritan’s Carriage board.