Helping seniors in trying times

Blair students give back to community during covid-19 pandemic
*Updated May 19, 2020 to include new quotes*

Carrying plastic bags filled to the brim with groceries, a teen volunteer dons protective equipment to drop off groceries at the front door of a neighbor’s house. As a member of “Teens Helping Seniors,” the volunteer is delivering groceries and other essentials to the homes of the elderly and immunocompromised.

Teens Helping Seniors was started by two Blair sophomores, Matthew Casertano and Dhruv Pai. The pair began delivering groceries to their grandparents during the ongoing pandemic, which prompted them to create their service. “This organization started unofficially at the start of March,” Casertano says. “[We] both wanted to help our grandparents.”

Casertano and Pai soon realized that seniors, highly at-risk for covid-19, may have trouble accessing groceries if they are alone. “We sort of thought, ‘What about people who maybe don't have family nearby to help them out? How are they going to get their groceries and their medication without having to expose themselves to the virus?’” Casertano says.

The service mobilizes teens to buy groceries and other needed items for vulnerable seniors. “Crossing that generational gap and that age barrier has been one of the fundamental aspects of why this is so rewarding and why we get so much impact out of such an effort,” Pai says.

“The goal of our organization is to connect teen volunteers to elderly people and immunocompromised people to allow them to stay at home and minimize their exposure to the virus,” Casertano adds.

Courtesy of Teens Helping Seniors
DELIVERING TO THE DOOR Teen volunteers deliver groceries.

Senior Lintaro Donovan, Vice President of Outreach for the service, elaborates on the struggles facing the quarantined at-risk population regarding food security for themselves and family. “There are people who are vulnerable to covid-19 who are being forced inside their homes because of circumstances outside of their control,” he says. “Contactless deliveries are an incredible and direct way of solving a lot of those issues.”

In the first few days of the service, the main priority was growing their volunteer base. “At the very beginning, we mostly focused on getting volunteers,” Casertano says, “so we could get a solid foundation of people who can do deliveries.”

After building their steady volunteer base, the service started delivering to seniors and the immunocompromised in Montgomery County. Before each delivery, they make sure to reiterate safety procedures. “We have a big list of procedures that everyone has to follow because that's the most important thing in our organization,” Casertano says. “If we mess up on that, it defeats the whole purpose.”

These precautions include wearing a mask and gloves, maintaining six feet social distancing protocols, using alcohol disinfectants, and having no contact with the seniors. 

With these precautions in mind, the team of volunteers began their deliveries and in doing so, made—and continue to make—an impact in the community. “Most seniors are just blown away that we are doing something like this,” Donovan says. He notes the service has gotten praise through emails from across America. 

What started out as a few deliveries in the first few weeks quickly grew to over 250 deliveries in Montgomery County alone. Since then, the service gained traction and recognition. “I recently just got done working with a British film studio to make a Snapchat episode about the organization,” Donovan says.

The organization has emphasized outreach to ensure communities in need are aware of its services. “We have been reaching out to communities across the United States who could potentially stand to benefit the most,” Pai says, “mobilizing through emails, listservs, social media, reaching out to news organizations.” The service also has information for seniors and teens alike on their website: teenshelpingseniors.org.

The recognition of the service has helped increase the number of volunteers and has encouraged others to start up their own chapters of the service. “After we got some national press attention, we got requests from people all across the country and even in Canada, who want to help Teens Helping Seniors chapters in their area,” Casertano says.

With over 200 volunteers, the service spans across the United States. “We have 11 chapters and two more in Canada,” Pai says, “and they are spread out across more than seven different states.”  

Courtesy of Teens Helping Seniors
GIFT CERTIFICATES FOR GROCERIES Teens Helping Seniors receives a $1000 gift certificate from the Giant Groceries Chain, of which $600 was donated to Blair Kindness Corner.

Additionally, the service has many partners. They work with Serving Together, which is a veteran organization, and Blair Kindness Corner, which helps low income families. They also partnered with Girl Scouts of America to provide the scouts volunteer opportunities to earn badges and Founding Farmers, an organization that resells foods not used in restaurants at affordable prices.

As more and more volunteers and partners get involved around the world, seeing the impact has been gratifying for those involved. “I personally feel really good about the impact we are making because over two hundred deliveries means over two hundred instances where we kept a senior away from a virus that has a very high probability of killing them,” Casertano says.

Pai shares that their service highlights the good teens can do. “One of the biggest things for me was noticing that a lot of media press and what we are saying in the news right now has a decidedly negative portrayal of teens,” he says. “We have been showing the world that teens are not necessarily just not caring about the crisis and that there are still some teens that truly care for their community and are willing to work hard.”

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