Arguably one of the biggest party weekends of the year, Halloween weekend leaves many college students without a safe, sober way to get home. For over ten years, MERCYhouse in Amherst has invited students to hitch a ride with no fee, and no strings attached. We spoke to Lois Grandmaison, Associate Staff at the church, about how they pull it off.
PCP: What is “Free Rides” and how did it get started?
LG: Seeing how Halloween is a well celebrated event in the Pioneer Valley, MERCYhouse decided back in 2000 to provide a free ride service to help make sure the student community has access to safe rides over the weekend. We have been going strong every Halloween since and recruit over 100 volunteers to help to drive, navigate, dispatch and host those who call in for rides.
PCP: How has the community responded?
LG: We rent locally from Enterprize in Amherst who help with a weekend rate for non profits for 12 min vans. Local sponsors like Bueno Y Sano, Amherst Brewing Company, Umass Alumni Association and personal community member donations cover the cost of the vans at $250 per van sponsorship. This covers the van cost, gas, and some advertising. The restaurants really go above and beyond in providing coupons for the volunteers and riders which pulls together the care and community aspect.
PCP: Who are the types of people you meet?
LG: The people we meet both as volunteers and guests in vans are serious about their costume choices, which makes it fun for us! A popular drop off and pick up is at the Hampshire Halloween annual bash, these by far have some pretty creative costumes. We’ve seen Captain Jack Sparrow along with Fairy Plummers and the Seven Dwarfs. Other hot spots we frequent rides are Hobart Lane, Southwest on the Umass Campus and the Route 9 diner.
PCP: Any memorable stories?
LG: Several people usually get proposed to during a ride each year and there are also countless accolades of love and appreciation of the transit they receive.
PCP: Why does MERCYhouse do this?
LG: MERCYhouse does this for two reasons. One is because there is a basic need to help students and those in the community to be safe over this particular weekend in the valley. The second reason is because it is a great way to share the gift of grace that God has for us all. God’s love for us is totally free and Free Rides is a crazy, fun and actually really deep picture of that.
PCP: Tell me briefly about MERCYhouse.
LG: MERCYhouse started back in 1999 and is a Bible-based church that community members, families and students from the 5 colleges attend on a weekly basis. We offer weekly small group opportunities and also volunteer for community events like the Taste of Amherst and the Craig’s Doors Winter Shelter.
To get a ride between 10pm and 2am on Nov 1st and 2nd, call 413.548.9474