With demand at an all-time high, grocery delivery services are struggling to keep up, with websites crashing and waits extending for days.
If you’re able to get to a supermarket on your own, not a problem. But for some senior citizens and others with reduced mobility, these snags can pose a major issue. Happily for people in Philadelphia, there are a couple of alternatives spun up by goodhearted volunteers.
A new program called For Philly connects existing free meal services with senior citizens, since it’s more dangerous for them to leave their homes to shop. In the last few weeks, the site has recruited 600 volunteers and distributed 30-lb. boxes of food to more than 1,850 people.
There’s also Your Neighbor Good, a web app where anyone can sign up and request a volunteer to complete a task or errand for them, with no eligibility requirements. The brand new initiative hasn’t yet gained momentum, with about 40 people enrolled to deliver and only 10 requests for help so far.
Software developer Diana Funk is eagerly seeking participation. “It’s been hard,” she told Billy Penn. “You can’t hang fliers or anything. I’m so used to being able to spread to word of mouth.”
Here’s more about how you can connect with these two innovative programs helping Philadelphians in need.
‘Last mile’ solution for hungry seniors
For Philly is what Dave Brindley, who helped create the site, calls a “last mile” solution. Philabundance already distributes food to senior centers all over the city, then volunteers with the program step in and drop the food directly at neighbors’ doorsteps.
That way, older people who may be vulnerable to bad cases of COVID-19 don’t have to leave their homes and visit a high-traffic distribution site to get food.
“That seems to be a missing link in what our seniors need,” Brindley said. “We don’t want to see our elders having to wait in long lines, and they might not even have money at all to buy groceries. Even if they did, they shouldn’t be going outside.”
The program capitalizes on a network that already existed. A program that predates the pandemic, called Easter Outreach, had established a network of hundreds of churches that could help hand out meal boxes for the Christian holiday. Brindley started with that database of recipients, and continues to add more seniors who sign up.
Thousands of Philadelphians are being fed thanks to these volunteer services — but Brindley said the impact goes beyond nutritional sustenance.
There’s a person in West Philadelphia to whom Brindley and his wife regularly deliver food. A few weeks in, they could tell she was struggling to cope with isolation. From a distance, Brindley’s wife chatted and bonded with her, and they could see her mood start to lighten.
“Lot of people, if they’re not feeling anxiety because of food insecurity, there are issues with loneliness and feeling cut off,” Brindley said. “It’s great to have that personal connection from meeting the same person week after week, even if it’s from the sidewalk to the front steps.”
Like TaskRabbit for a good cause
The Your Neighbor Good network is available to even more Philadelphians, but it hasn’t yet taken off.
Developed by the software company PromptWorks, it allows anyone in Philly to submit a request via its web app, whether for grocery delivery or mail pickup. Then, a volunteer within a 15-mile radius can choose to accept the task and help out. Think of it like localized TaskRabbit for a good cause.
Web dev Funk thought up the idea a few months ago. She had traveled to Europe, and when she returned to the city, she showed symptoms of coronavirus, so she had to go into quarantine early.
“I had a head start, knowing how bad it was going to be,” Funk said. “I was thinking that if there was a way to go onto an app and request help, I’d be likely to do that.”
Hoping to expand the network of recipients, Funk set up a phone number. People who need help can request it online, or call Your Neighbor Good directly at 267-279-9470. She’d like the service to get big enough it could expand to other cities — and ideally outlast the pandemic.
“There’s a lot of research on how people don’t volunteer because they don’t love to do the same thing every week,” Funk said. “This kind of noncommittal volunteering, I hope can live on.”