Aleene Johnson was among a steady stream of seniors, some holding canes and reusable canvass grocery bags, who boarded a shuttle bus to the Rotunda Giant on March 15.
Johnson, who lives in the Broadview Apartments on University Parkway, said she wasn't sure what she would do when the Giant closes March 29 and a new Giant opens further away.
"Catch a cab, I guess," she said. "It's very expensive."
The driver of the minibus was Kimberly Allender, program coordinator for the Hampden-based organization Action in Maturity. AIM, a nonprofit transportation provider, offers low-cost shuttle service to the Giant on Thursday mornings. Allender fears for low-and-moderate-income seniors like Johnson, who live in hi-rises and retirement communities near the Rotunda.
In recent weeks, hundreds of area seniors, many of whom no longer drive and have trouble walking long distances, have been worried about how they would get to Giant's new location in the former Fresh & Green's store in the Greenspring Tower shopping center a quarter mile away.
From a senior's perspective, Allender said, the new store is not just down the street, but down a long hill.
"A lot of people can walk down, but they can't walk back because of the hill," Allender said.
Now, Action in Maturity is taking AIM at the problem — with Giant's help.
AIM plans to expand its Rotunda shuttle service to Tuesdays, starting April 3, and to include Greenspring Tower, 1030 W. 41st St.
And Giant, the Landover-based supermarket chain, confirmed last week that it will give AIM $5,000 to help cover the costs of gas and drivers' salaries.
"We're making a donation to the organization," Giant spokesman Jamie Miller said.. "We've realized that the closing of the Rotunda store does create some problems for some of the senior residents around the mall."
"They've certainly shown an interest in the idea," said 14th District Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who first asked AIM to enlist Giant's help in providing shuttle service after many seniors began calling her office worriedly.
It may sound like a small amount of money, but it's "enormously helpful," said Elizabeth Briscoe, executive director of AIM, who grew up in Govans and now lives in Cockeysville.
The relocation "seems like a simple move for a Giant, but you're talking about a frailer group."
Much of AIM's $250,000 annual budget comes from private donations and foundation grants (the Weinberg Foundation is a major donor), and is spread thin providing its roughly 550 members help with social and health services issues, as well as transportation to everything from doctors' appointments to outings such as a trip downtown March 18 to see a stage show.
Seniors pay a membership fee of $15 per year, plus $2 to $5 per ride. But the goal is to keep those fees as low as possible, said Briscoe and AIM board member Carolyn Donohue, of Roland Park.
Federal money from the Older Americans Act used to account for 80 percent of AIM's funding, but federal funding is down to 40 percent of AIM's budget now, they said, adding that they get no money from the city currently.
"I do have a (Community Development Block Grant) application in," said Briscoe, who spends much of her time writing grant requests.
Shuttle service to the new Giant is the latest initiative of AIM, a 40-year-old agency co-founded by Clarke that tries to improve seniors' quality of life while enabling them to live independently.