America Supports You: Former Marine helps Vets get around

4 Aug 2005 | Mr. Rudi Williams

David Mortlock, 28, learned while volunteering at a homeless shelter in Alexandria, Va., that a lack of access to transportation is a barrier to self-sufficiency.Four years later, after a stint in the Marine Corps that included six months in Iraq in 2003, Mortlock was interviewing for a job here. The interviewer mentioned that one of the company's monthly benefits is a $20 to $40 Metro card for the region's public transit system.He learned that some employees stockpiled the fare cards even though they got to work by other means. "I thought, 'What a waste of resources.' Then I remembered that there are people out there that would greatly benefit from having free access to public transportation."Mortlock put his knowledge of issues affecting the homeless to good use and began a project to help homeless veterans. "Fare Share D.C." recycles partially used Metro fare cards to provide transportation for homeless and nearly homeless veterans.Mortlock's desire to help homeless veterans took him to the Ignatia House homeless shelter on the campus of the Armed Services Retirement Home, which is nestled on 276 acres in the heart of the nation's capital."I told them about my idea, and they thought it was interesting," said Mortlock.His next move was to ask hotels in the area for help. "Hotels are a good target for tourists who come to town, buy Metro cards to get around, and when they leave, they don't have any reason to keep the leftover," Mortlock said."I have donation boxes in 14 hotels, and they've had great response," he said. "When the guests leave town, they donate their metro cards. I pick them up once a month and send (the hotels) back a report of how much their hotel has raised."The hotels and three other locations have raised more than $10,000 in Metro fares in about a year, he said, noting the program is currently helping 12 veterans living at Ignatia House.Mortlock explained he consolidates the partially used Metro fare cards onto plastic "SmarTrip" cards. "I put about $100 on each card and hand them over to case managers at the shelter, and they distribute them to the most needy of the people living at the shelter," he said."Every single penny that's donated is given to veterans for them to get to and from work or to find work," Mortlock said."We can't turn these cards in for cash or take any money out for overhead," he noted. "So I think people like to donate their cards because they don't view the Metro cards as money. Ten cents on a metro card is different from a quarter in their pocket."
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