A volunteer group that provides free shuttle rides for Marines between Palm Springs International Airport and Twentynine Palms is facing its own enemy: rising gasoline prices.
“I’ve got the volunteers to do the driving; what we’re running out of is money for gasoline,” said Erica Stone, founder of Soldiers Organized Services, or SOS.
“We’re panicked. Fourth of July is coming, and I don’t know how we’re going to be able to afford to transport Marines so they can celebrate it with their families.”
Stone started SOS in May 2007 after discovering the government does not typically pick up the cost for Marines of the more than 50-mile drive from the airport to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms.
A taxi ride from the airport to the base costs about $200.
The group transported its 6,000th Marine over Memorial Day weekend, Stone said.
While volunteer drivers would love to donate the cost of gasoline as well as their time, most cannot, Stone said.
“Most of my volunteers are on fixed income; they’re retired Korean or Vietnam veterans,” she said.
All of the group’s volunteers and administration are unpaid, Stone said. Its only overhead expenses are gasoline, insurance on a shuttle van and the van’s maintenance, she said.
The Owen Coffman American Legion Post 519 in Palm Springs will host a picnic lunch beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 4, at the post on 400 N. Belardo Road, Palm Springs. All donated proceeds will benefit the SOS ride program.
The group is happy to help, past legion post commander Lee Gussler said.
“Right now, especially in these hard economic times, the servicemen and -women, with what they are making, are probably the hardest-hit of anybody,” he said.
A community needs to do more than shake the hand of a Marine back home from war, or have a bumper sticker stating support the troops, Stone said.
“When they come into Palm Springs airport and we’re there to help them, our SOS program boosts the morale of each Marine,” she said. “It says, ‘Hey, look, somebody in the community cares about you, and what’s going on.’”