Helping the Elderly



Helping the Elderly

When the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) hit the country in early March, Dhruv Pai, and Matt Casertano, two teenagers from Maryland, helped deliver groceries to their grandparents.

Older adults, particularly ones with underlying health conditions, were advised to shelter in place to reduce their risk of exposure to the disease. So, family members pitched in to help them navigate the challenges of the pandemic.

When the COVID-19 outbreak closed schools, both teenagers had more time to deliver groceries to their grandparents. Casertano, 15, and Pai, 16, however, began wondering how other seniors who did not have family nearby were getting groceries.

As a way of helping other older adults, Casertano and Pai decided to create, “Teens Helping Seniors,” a volunteer service that delivers groceries and other supplies to seniors. Seniors give teenagers their grocery list. The teens shopped for groceries and called as they neared the senior’s home. The teens left the groceries and picked up the payment, which seniors left on the doorstep.

Little did Casertano and Pai know that their efforts to help older adults in Montgomery County would spark a movement among teenagers nationwide to serve older adults during a public health crisis.

As of June, Teens Helping Seniors had 14 chapters across the United States and another one starting in Montreal, a city in the Canadian province of Quebec. Some teenagers walk, some drive (if they have a driver’s license), while others carpool with parents who help them with deliveries.

The service grew rapidly because the demand was there, said Dhruv, whose founding chapter has made about 350 deliveries with the help of 250 volunteers.

Teens Helping Seniors Catches On

Maya Dhinesh, a teenager from Niskayuna, New York, started the first Teens Helping Seniors chapter outside of Maryland. Dhinesh said she read the news about Casertano and Pai, and wanted to help older adults in the Capital Region, the area surrounding Albany, the capital of New York. Dhinesh started with four friends, and the group has now expanded to 60 volunteers.

Andy Foster, who benefits from the service, commends the young volunteers for their diligence and making sure that they get the right products for him.

In one instance, the store did not have the cheese that he wanted and the volunteer called and asked him what other kind of cheese he wanted. Foster said he is delighted to see teenagers getting involved in the community.

Network of Programs Helps Seniors

It’s all hands on deck when it comes to caring for seniors in Alexandra, Virginia. Volunteers in programs offered by Senior Services of Alexandria (SSA) are making sure older adults get their needs met during the pandemic.

In fact, volunteers in SSA’s Senior Ambassador program let older adults know about the resources available like Groceries to Go, where volunteers deliver groceries every other week.

Donna, a senior ambassador, said she finds it “extremely gratifying” to help older adults ease their anxiety by telling them about the assistance available through SSA or help them connect to others.

In their attempt to avoid exposure to the coronavirus, seniors who do not have visitors may feel socially isolated. SSA’s Virtual Friendly Visitor Program, however, helps them feel less lonely with over-the-phone visits. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, volunteers visited seniors for one hour each week. Now, volunteers reach out via telephone to connect with their older adult friends.

Seniors also speak with volunteers working with SSA’s AniMeals on Wheels program, which makes sure older adults have food for their pets. AniMeals on Wheels Volunteer Shannon said she takes time to talk with seniors because they want someone to listen to them or they need help with their AniMeals.

Some seniors are able to interact—even if it is at a distance—with volunteers from Meals on Wheels (MOW), which is also part of SSA’s network of programs.

Older adults sheltering in place in Rochester, New York, are also using the MOW program. The pandemic has left many people in need, but especially seniors said New York Assemblyman Harry Bronson (D-Rochester).

Bronson recently helped to deliver meals with the University of Rochester (UR) Medicine Home Care’s MOW. The program, which provides about 300,000 meals annually, has seen a sharp increase in the number of seniors asking for help during the pandemic.

Phone Pals Help Seniors Fight Loneliness

Meal delivery helps seniors to remain at home to reduce their risk of exposure to the coronavirus, sheltering in place limits their in-person contact with family and friends.

In Branch County, Michigan, advocates for seniors started a project called Phone Pals to ensure that older adults have someone to listen to them when they want to talk. The project was developed by Branch County Commissioner on Aging, the Area Agency on Aging 3C, and Pines Behavioral Health.

Staying indoors to protect themselves against COVID-19 has taken a toll on the mental health of older adults, said Amy Duff, executive director of the Branch County Commission on Aging.

So, Phone Pals was created to let seniors know that they are not alone and that a “friendly person” wants to listen to them and offer support, Duff said. The listener is a Pines Behavioral Health employee.  

Pines Behavioral Health CEO Sue Germann said seniors who must stay at home due to COVID-19 are missing the social contact with others, something that many people take for granted. With three agencies joining together, Phone Pals can reach more adults in need of a listening ear, Germann said.


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