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To find a chapter of Teens Helping Seniors, visit the organization's website and go to the section marked “select your community from below.” After locating a chapter, seniors can email organizers with their address and information about what services they are interested in to begin scheduling deliveries.
After her husband and daughter both contracted the coronavirus in March, Lynda Better, 66, knew she could no longer risk grocery shopping.
"I'm a senior and I have asthma, so I really can't go out to the stores,” Better says. “My husband's already had [COVID-19], so I'm just kind of scared."
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Fortunately for Better, who lives in San Diego, a volunteer delivery service called Teens Helping Seniors is making sure at-risk populations can stay at home while obtaining food and other critical resources.
The organization, started by high school classmates Dhruv Pai, 16, and Matt Casertano, 15, in Montgomery County, Maryland, connects volunteers with nearby seniors to deliver groceries and medication free of charge.
"I didn't really want my grandparents to have to go out and go to grocery stores and be in contact with a lot of people,” Pai says. “I thought, What if I can kind of be the intermediary so they don't have to put themselves at risk?"
Groceries and conversation
The organization has 23 chapters across the country and delivers to hundreds of seniors, a service that public health experts say is critical to keeping older populations healthy.
"Any time an older adult goes out into public into an enclosed area such as a store … there is some risk of contracting COVID-19,” says Sheria Robinson-Lane, a gerontologist and assistant professor of nursing at the University of Michigan. A recent jump in COVID-19 cases across the U.S., along with research that finds that asymptomatic carriers can spread the virus, makes it even more important for older adults to stay at home when possible, she says.
In addition to making deliveries, volunteers often strike up conversations and develop relationships with those they serve, curbing loneliness faced by those who live on their own or have limited human contact during the pandemic, according to Pai.
That loneliness “can have really negative psychological effects,” Pai said. “[We] have tried to create a mental health network for these seniors to let them know that they're not alone."
A recent study from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found evidence linking social isolation with mortality, depression, dementia and other health conditions.
Jess Bradford, 16, who leads the Teens Helping Seniors Pennsylvania chapter from her home in Delaware County, says volunteers have built friendships with the seniors they deliver to.