Legal Aid’s Justice Bus has arrived! Deputy Director Ann Cofell has been waiting impatiently for it to arrive so she can get it on the road, serving rural communities in central Minnesota. After her first time behind the wheel, driving the bus home to the St. Cloud office, she has some things to say.

What’s so exciting about the Justice Bus?

Removing barriers to justice! We can take our mobile office into rural communities and bring access to justice with us. Residents in rural areas can rely on regular outreach rotations and scheduled visits from our mobile justice team.

What exactly IS a Justice Bus? What’s in it?

The bus is a large van retrofitted with a small mobile office. It has a computer, copier, printer, fact sheets, and other informational documents. With the bus, we can provide services anywhere – we don’t have to coordinate with host locations and rely on their technology.

Can’t people just come to your office?

Rural Minnesotans face so many obstacles to legal help, and that’s been worse since the pandemic. Many rural Minnesotans aren’t even aware that legal services are available to them. Transportation is always an issue, as public transit options are limited and come with higher risk of exposure to Covid.

How did it feel to get behind the wheel for the first time?

It felt like a dream come true! We’ve been making plans to take the bus to food shelves, community events, celebrations like Pride and Juneteenth, libraries, domestic violence shelters – so many plans. Now it’s all possible.

Do you think people will notice the bus?

On my very first drive in the bus, I pulled over to a rest stop to read through the owner’s manual. Someone walked right up to me and started asking questions about our work. That’s when I knew this is really going to happen – not just in my head, but in real life.

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