Three-and-a-half hours. That’s how long I sat in my idling car snaking through the parking lot to get my COVID-19 test, with hundreds of fellow Savannahians in their idling cars. Frustrated, grumpy, and thankfully coronavirus-free, I bemoaned the state of health care in Georgia. But at least I could access it.
To get my COVID-19 test, I had the privilege of filling up my reliable car with a full tank of gas, driving 20 minutes across the county, and burning through fuel to get a swab up my nose. Many in our community, however, have no such luxury. As with many things in this pandemic world, disparities in transportation have been magnified in this time of crisis, with a grossly disparate impact on Black and brown people, single mothers and under- or unemployed individuals.
WOMEN UNITED was founded 11 years ago to address specifically the lack of access to transportation by women and children. Funds raised by WOMEN UNITED provide bus passes, gas cards, car repairs, medical transport, and taxi/Uber service to women and their children, so that they can take care of basic daily necessities that many of us take for granted.
Today, nearly 32,000 single women are heads of households in our area, and 59% of these women earned incomes under the federal poverty level. This data pre-dates COVID-19, but we know that women with children may have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, forced to choose between educating their child at home or going to work each day. Again, working from home is a luxury not afforded to women working lower-wage jobs.
Without transportation, many women cannot access employment at a living wage, comprehensive medical care, educational opportunities, or support for their children’s education and well-being. We never contemplated a pandemic, but it turns out accessing a COVID-19 test is also difficult without transportation.
WOMEN UNITED usually raises money through an empowering lunch with a panel of powerful, inspiring local leaders, affectionately called Women Who Rule. Hundreds of women gather for lunch and fellowship, a thought that seems outright dangerous right now. We’ve had time to reflect on how we used to live and long for those days again. Meanwhile, the need for transportation, and the disparities further perpetuated by COVID-19, remains more of a priority than ever.
We cannot gather for lunch, but many of us can still give. And when you give this year — at uwce.org or by texting MOTIVATE to 41444 — you will know that 100% of your donation is going directly to provide these critical transportation services. And maybe that’s the best lesson of all — let’s give solely to give and save lunch for another day.
Julie Wade is the director of Park Place Outreach, an emergency shelter for at-risk youth and their families, as well as a Savannah-Chatham County School Board representative.