Changemakers to Watch: Groceries To Go Volunteers

BY LISA ROSEMORE

It takes a team: ElderCircle volunteers deliver groceries weekly

It’s an early Wednesday morning at the Super One South store in Grand Rapids and the store is buzzing as approximately 20 ElderCircle volunteers take their assigned shopping lists to shop for older adults. When the last shopper has gone through the check-out lane this particular week, the volunteers will have shopped for many older adult households.

These shoppers are part of a group of more than 80 volunteers for the ElderCircle Groceries To Go grocery delivery program. The program has one goal – to deliver groceries to older adults in Itasca County.

In addition to volunteer shoppers, the program also utilizes volunteer order takers and delivery drivers who have all selflessly given their time and talents every week to make sure the most vulnerable of the area’s population are still receiving food.

“ElderCircle is privileged to work with some of the most compassionate, caring, and patient volunteers,” said Renee Bymark, ElderCircle executive director. “Because of their dedication and support, we are able to provide the services and supports to older adults who live in Itasca County. We are immensely grateful and humbled that they choose to work with ElderCircle.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic starting in March 2020, ElderCircle’s Groceries To Go program has seen a drastic increase in use of the grocery program. With the increased demands of the program, Groceries To Go volunteers stepped up to the plate. We use an average of 35 volunteers per week – to get groceries ordered, shopped and delivered.

Doris Nelson has been a program volunteer since 2013 as both an order taker and shopper. Continuing to volunteer during COVID was not an issue for her.

“As long as the need is there and we can do it safely, we have to do it,” Nelson said, adding that there has been a strong awareness of cleanliness and sanitation among both volunteers and staff. “The need  (for the program) is more than ever.”

At the store, volunteers are provided gloves, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes to use as needed. All volunteers wear masks during their grocery shifts with ElderCircle providing masks to volunteers who need one.

Brenda Baker (left) completes her volunteer grocery shopping on an early Wednesday morning at the Super One South store in Grand Rapids as volunteer driver Mark Mutchler waits to bring the order to his vehicle. Photo by Lisa Rosemore.

Every week in the Grand Rapids area, approximately 35 volunteers take orders, shop and deliver orders. Orders are taken Tuesday mornings and six to seven volunteers, each week from their own homes, donate their mornings from 8 a.m. to noon, and sometimes later, to call clients and type up their grocery orders.

Sharon Marty, along with her husband, David, have both been taking orders from home and shopping at Super One for Groceries To Go since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

“I enjoy shopping for groceries for those who can’t get out,” said Sharon Marty, echoing what many other grocery volunteers stated. “It makes me feel happy to think about how excited these folks must be when their packages arrive. Which is why I try so hard to get them exactly what they ask for, even a ‘very nice pear!’  I really enjoy taking grocery orders on Tuesday morning because I get a chance to chat with so many very appreciative people who have the greatest stories to tell. One woman asked for ‘the swiss cheese with the holes in it.’ And, she continued, ‘If you can’t find the kind with the holes in it, would you do me a favor and punch a few of them in it, for me?’ Delightful!  I am a lucky lady!”

Starting at 6:30 a.m. every Wednesday, between 18 to 25 volunteers take their assigned shopping lists and shop for clients. If they need clarification on an item on the shopping list, they cheerfully call the clients, making sure the clients’ orders are correct.

It usually takes six drivers to deliver the orders for Grand Rapids area clients. Leaving the store between 8:30 to 9 a.m., they use their own vehicles to deliver the orders to the clients’ homes.  Volunteer drivers have the option to be reimbursed for their mileage for their weekly deliveries, from 10 to 100 miles depending on the route.

“I wanted to do something to help the community,” said Mark Mutchler, who has been a delivery driver for the program for nearly six years. He added that he enjoys the interaction with both fellow volunteers and the clients he serves.

Volunteers for the rural side of the program work one-on-one with clients by taking the order, shopping and delivering to the client once a week.

Sharon and David Marty are two of more than 80 volunteers for ElderCircle’s Groceries To Go program. They take client orders from home on Tuesdays and shop Wednesday mornings. Photo by Lisa Rosemore.

Groceries To Go volunteers do not limit themselves to their assigned shifts, many times they go above and beyond in their quest to serve clients. Two snowbird volunteers are still taking and typing up orders every week from their winter homes down south. If a fellow volunteer is unable to make a shift when life happens, several other volunteers cheerfully step up to fill that shift. If a fellow shopper is having troubles finding an item, another volunteer will offer to help.

Staff and volunteers both are told over and over by clients using the program how much it means to them to have their groceries delivered to their homes, many clients adding that if it weren’t for the grocery delivery program, they would be unable to remain in their homes.

“The ‘thank yous’ make it all worth while,” said driver Dan Ratke, who joined the program in December.

Once a year, surveys are sent out to grocery clients to measure their overall experience with the program.  Overall, most survey respondents answered “yes” to the question: Has the service improved your ability to remain in your home/apartment longer? They also answered “yes” to the question: Do you believe Groceries To Go has had a positive impact on your overall health?

Some of the comments clients wrote on the surveys:

  • This is a great program and very helpful to me. Thank you!
  • Perhaps I might be able to pay a friend for shopping, but would be difficult. Would not compare to the wonderful ElderCircle gang.
  • Thanks to all who help provide this program!
  • It has been a very positive relationship! I just want to say thanks!
  • (If not for the program) Would have to have my son, who lives 2 hrs. away, drive up once in a while to shop for me.
  • I think it’s a wonderful program and all the volunteers and staff are so kind.
  • I am getting such a good service from ElderCircle volunteers.
  • I would like to thank all the volunteers for their service. With this virus going around they are extra special.
  • Everyone tries to get me everything I need (or want!)

Nancy Shaw is the newest member of the Groceries To Go volunteer team. Recently retired from ElderCircle, Shaw said she had been thinking of volunteering for some time.

“The program is so very well-run (and regarding COVID) I feel safe and secure,” Shaw said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to help people in the community in this way.”

According to Lisa Rosemore, Groceries To Go program coordinator, it’s the dedication of each and every volunteer for making the program such a huge success.

“This is a real and substantial difference these volunteers are making in the lives of area older adults,” said Rosemore. “It takes each volunteer coming together every week as a team to make the ElderCircle Groceries To Go program happen.”

Those interested in learning more about ElderCircle’s Groceries To Go program can learn more by contacting Program Coordinator Lisa Rosemore at (218) 999-9233, ext. 284; lrosemore@eldercircle.org; or by visiting eldercircle.org.

ElderCircle is one of United Way’s Health impact partners, through which United Way aims to increase access to resources needed to live full, independent, healthy lives. To learn more about United Way’s Health impact pathway, visit uwlakes.org/our-work/health.

 

This article was originally published in the Grand Rapids Herald Review. It has been reprinted here with permission from ElderCircle.

Volunteers for ElderCircle Groceries To Go

Carol Anderson
Jody Anderson
Brenda Baker
Cindy Barrett
Valerie Basten
Debbie Becker
Paula Braland
Beverly Burk
Nancy Calder
Karen Cameron
Jessie Clemens
Shelby Cleveland
Bonnie Cole
Therese Connolly
Jodel Crecelius
Ann Dimich
David Dimich
Cynthia Downing
Tom Drennen
Jennifer Drotts
Linda Foss
Bryon Fraser
Joyce Frid
Tom Frid
Gloria Gooler
Linda Gorath
Phillip Gorath
Marge Haanpaa
LeAnn Hardy

Nancy Hasbargen
Patty Holycross
Mavis Johnson
Tom Kelly
Carolyn King
Sally LaDoux
Robert Lepak
Marion Mann
Kelly Martinson
Sean Martinson
David Marty
Sharon Marty
Jan Maurer
Joe Maurer
Verl McCarty
Thomas McDowell
Carol Mercier
Larry Mercier
John Michels
Tammy Moore
Mark Mutchler
Don Nagel
Pamela Nagel
Craig Nelson
Doris Nelson
Mike Nelson
Mary Niemala
Ronald Niemala
Mary Nix

Kelly OIsen
Sue Patterson
Sandra Pearson
Patricia Pedersen
Judy Peterson
Angela Ratke
Daniel Ratke
Lee Ringdahl
Denny Roy
Wendy Roy
Ronald Schaefer
Trudi Schaefer
Jill Schubert
Dennis Schuemann
Madelen Schuemann
Nancy Shaw
Lisa Sigfrinius
Carol Speedling
Elise Sperling
Kay Staley
Terry Staley
Shirley Stennerson
Ronald Stork
Connie Sutherland
Leona Thompson
Jack Velzen
Gary Wildgrube
Kelly Wilson
Kristin Wochnick