Homebound and on fixed incomes, facing a seemingly simple daily task like a trip to the grocery store can be a burden for senior citizens.
A county program that eases that burden and aims to allow seniors to live independently is in need of volunteers.
The Senior Connection’s volunteer grocery shoppers program matches individuals with senior citizens in their community who need a ride to the grocery store or need someone to shop for them, sometimes delivering and helping to put away groceries at the client's home.
A waiting list for the service had 43 potential clients at the begnning of August “and [is] growing every day,” Marcia Custer, community development director for the Wheaton-based Senior Connection, said in an email.
Of the clients, 10 live in Rockville and another eight are on the waiting list, Custer said.
To whittle down the waiting list, the nonprofit organization is seeking volunteers who can make a yearlong commitment to the program. Volunteers shop every week or two and can combine shopping for a client with their own trips to the store.
Sixty-two seniors receive assistance through the program, which serves disabled county residents 60 years and older. To qualify, clients must have incomes less than $27,926 per year for individuals, or less than $37,826 for couples.
Frank Cavaliere, a member of The Senior Connection’s Board of Directors from Silver Spring, has volunteered with the shoppers program since 1996, when the Montgomery County chapter of the American Red Cross ran it.
“I just thought it was something where you could do your little part to help these people live where they want to live,” he said.
His client, with whom he has been matched for about four years, shops every other Wednesday at the Giant in Aspen Hill.
“She’ll go in store for an hour-and-a-half,” Cavaliere said. “I go on a walk or do errands and then pick her up.”
For seniors, seemingly small tasks like reading a label or reaching for food on a store shelf can be a challenge.
“This seemed like an ideal activity because most of us go shopping for ourselves or for our families anyway,” said volunteer Jay Kenney.
He’s been matched with five different clients over the course of about a decade with the program, he said. Most of his clients have been senior citizens. One was a younger man who is blind.
Kenney said he picks up groceries for his client on weekends or after work.
The flexibility is a benefit, he said. He lives in Rockville, as have all of his clients.
“Maybe an hour-and-a-half [once a week] is all it takes—maybe two hours at the most—maybe a bit longer if they want to shop on their own,” he said.
The program is also a way for families to volunteer, Kenney said. When his children were younger, they joined him on client visits.
The time commitment is unstructured and unscheduled, unlike taking a client to a doctor’s appointment at a specific time—another service offered by The Senior Connection.
“This just seemed to be an activity where one could help out, do something to make a difference, without it being an undue burden on oneself or one’s family,” he said.
The Senior Connection serves residents of ZIP codes beginning with “209” or 208,” including in Chevy Chase, Bethesda, Kensington, Garrett Park, Cabin John, Potomac, Glen Echo, Rockville, Gaithersburg, Germantown, Spencerville and Colesville. In addition to the volunteer shoppers, the nonprofit also offers rides to medical appointments, friendly visitors, social services referrals and other services. The nonprofit assumed management of the shoppers program in December 2010.
People considering volunteering should be sure they are able to keep the commitment, Kenney said.
“I would recommend it,” he said. “It’s a very worthwhile program meeting a real need.”
Most “average responsible adults” will find it easy to stick with it, Cavaliere said.
It requires “no expertise, except to honor commitments,” he said.
He encouraged people to give it a try.
“You’re not going to know if it’s something that you want to do unless you do it,” he said.
Click here for more information or to volunteer or call Marcia Custer at 301-962-0820 x. 14.
Click here for a form to apply to receive shopper services.