Engage bus: a “crazy idea” that takes off

By Councillor Wayne Rothe

 Unfortunately, there are some Spruce Grove and area residents in need who must walk long distances to use the Parkland Food Bank.  

Sheri Ratsoy, food bank executive director, knows of single mothers who walk all the way from Parkland Village and from Stony Plain, sometimes with children in tow. The food bank is located in the southwest area of Spruce Grove’s industrial park, which is about as far from Parkland Village as you can get and still be in Sprue Grove.  

That’s a need that the 300-member Engage Church in Spruce Grove is attempting to meet with the launch Saturday of its community bus. I rode on the inaugural trip to talk with Pastor Brett Esslinger about the initiative.  

Brett saw the need when he served on the food bank board of directors. He feels that churches have a responsibility to serve more than the spiritual needs of their communities.  

Brett, who started the Engage Church six years ago, took the idea to his congregation when he found a used bus on Kijiji. A deal was made to buy the former Red Deer Transit bus for $9,000. The 1999 bus – with 200,000 km on its odometer, was in good condition but needed $4,000 of work, which was completed over 2½ months by volunteers. Ken Turlock, owner of perks Coffee House, painted the bus. Operating costs are estimated to be $1,000 a month.  

“I had this crazy idea,” Brett told me. “How about we buy this bus to take people to the food bank? We wanted to make an impact in the community.”  

Five food bank patrons who rode on the bus’s first run Saturday, Feb. 9, were joined by several church members. We spent 30 minutes at the food bank before shuttling everyone back to their pickup locations.  

The bus will make 45-minute Saturday-morning runs to pick up at various locations around Spruce Grove (see the attached map). Brett stressed that the church will consider requests from community groups to use the bus but it’s not a rental bus. “It’s not a party bus so isn’t available for Wayne’s birthday party,” he laughed. Licensed driver Tara Williams will run the program including the scheduling.  

Others in the community have embraced the idea. The Stony Plain and Spruce Grove libraries may put on mobile story times for children of food bank patrons. Dr. Allan Bailey plans to ride the bus on occasion as a means of medical outreach. “We have people who have been inspired by the idea,” Brett says. “Dr. Bailey knows there can be a fear of doctors and he’s trying to take down that barrier.”  

Brett’s mother, Bev Esslinger, is an Edmonton city councillor and Brett worked in her city hall office for a time, so he knows how municipal government functions. He doesn’t fault the City of Spruce Grove’s transit system for being unable to serve this need with a free service.  

“We have a unique problem in that Spruce Grove doesn’t have a bus to take people to the food bank,” he told me. “Our church saw a gap and decided that we wanted to fill it. That’s what a church does.”  

The bus seats 39 people and only had about a dozen riders on the inaugural trip, but it’s an idea that will grow as word spreads.  

On the inaugural run was church member Jan Gillett, who I asked about her support. “In this community when there is a need we find a way to fill it,” Jan stated.  

Engage Church is located at 282 King Street and has added a second location in Meridian Mall in Stony Plain.


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