Homebound Shoppers Receive Heavenly Help

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As the coronavirus pandemic sent states into shutdowns earlier this year, Jayde Powell sprung into action.

Powell, a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno had flown to Las Vegas to be with family in March when, midway through spring break, she found out in-person classes were canceled indefinitely.

“I was texting with my friends, thinking about ways I could be productive,” said Powell, 20, a pre-med student. “And I was talking to my mom, telling her I was going to ask our neighbors if they needed me to pick up anything from the store.”

She put the two thoughts together, and Shopping Angels was born.

Now operating in dozens of states, the free service matches those who are elderly, disabled, or immunocompromised to volunteers who will shop for food and other grocery store items for them.

Volunteer coordinators — who are located in every state — match Shopping Angel volunteers and clients, who both sign up online with their availability and needs. Hand-offs are done with no contact as clients leave cash or cashier’s checks on their doorsteps. Venmo and PayPal are also accepted.

"People are really scared right now. We’re doing anything we can to relieve some of those fears. I’m here and healthy, like many, but not all, young people, so I feel I have an obligation to help others."

The needs vary. Some of those who are homebound or isolating ask for toiletries. Others seek produce or frozen meals. A few have asked for prescription-medication pickups.

“It doesn’t matter what items people need, as long as they are groceries or available at or near grocery stores,” said Powell. “It’s a small way individual people can offer to help those who are in need right now.”

There are about 7,000 volunteers across the U.S. Many are college students. A large number are also in their 30s and 40s, including unemployed Americans who have sought volunteer opportunities while out of work. Thousands of deliveries have been made so far.

One of the most active states is Nevada, where Reno and Las Vegas are the most popular cities for Shopping Angels.
“My own grandparents who live in Las Vegas use it,” said Kennedy Sparling, a college friend of Powell’s who is the Shopping Angels state coordinator for Nevada.

Her grandmother’s chronic obstructive pulmonary disease means she uses an oxygen machine and is unable to leave home. Her grandfather, in his late 70s, also tends to stay home as the coronavirus is on the rise in the state and in the Western U.S.
“They need toilet paper, hand sanitizer, cleaning products, milk, eggs, greens, and prunes,” said Sparling, 20, who is also a pre-med student. “If my own family needs the help, I know there are families and people who live alone everywhere who must.”

In Nevada, the organization — which is currently applying with the Internal Revenue Service to become a nonprofit — receives up to 20 shopping requests per week.

An Obligation to Help Others

“People are really scared right now,” said Sparling. “We’re doing anything we can to relieve some of those fears. I’m here and healthy, like many, but not all, young people, so I feel I have an obligation to help others.”

According to a recent survey by AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons), 94% of Americans over the age of 50 are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the coronavirus. The greatest concern, according to the survey, is for family members or individual retirees themselves becoming sick. Financial and investment losses are other concerns.

In another survey conducted by The Senior Citizens League, a nonpartisan group, nearly half those who replied said they had gone “without food, prescription drugs, face masks, and disinfecting cleaning products” amid the pandemic.

The results from both polls explain much of why many grocery chains have set up “senior hours,” when retired shoppers can have stores to themselves in the early mornings without having to wait in lines or fend against younger, often physically faster shoppers.

Still, as knowledge about the virus increases, including the fact that it’s more likely to spread in indoor spaces, many older Americans have avoided shopping.

Powell and Kennedy point to such surveys and Centers for Disease Control guidelines on how to avoid infection to make the case for why Shopping Angels is filling a void.

Powell, the doctor in training, said she plans to keep the project going “as long as necessary.”

As it’s grown, Shopping Angels has also received financial support. Several anonymous “Sponsor Angels” have now signed up, offering to cover shopping bills for clients who end up not paying or are unable to pay their bills.

Still, for the vast majority of matches, the effort’s attraction remains that of mutual trust and compassion. That’s one reason it’s now gone international. Shopping Angels networks have launched in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

“The coronavirus is a pandemic, it’s global. So the need for a service like ours is also global,” said Powell. “Even without the coronavirus, the needs of those who are homebound are still there, and Shopping Angels is available to serve.”

Tags: Navigating the Pandemic, Overcoming Adversity

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JD Turner

JD Turner is a writer and puppy parent based in Los Angeles. See Full Bio

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