Amid coronavirus outbreak, student organizes group to deliver groceries to the elderly

A pre-med student started a program and now people across the country want to help.
Jayde Powell, a 20-year-old student, is helping connect volunteers with senior citizens in need of food during the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis.
Jayde Powell, a 20-year-old student, is helping connect volunteers with senior citizens in need of food during the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis. ayde Powell/Shopping Angels
/ Source: TODAY

Jayde Powell was supposed to be on spring break this week. Instead, she's spearheading a free grocery delivery program for the people who are most at risk for contracting the novel coronavirus: senior citizens.

In late February, the 20-year-old student, who studies at the University of Nevada in Reno, got a call from her mother, encouraging her to check in on her elderly neighbors to see if they needed any supplies as confirmed cases of coronavirus continued to pop up across the country.

Grocery shopping might seem like a routine chore, but it's quickly become a task that many elderly Americans have been warned to avoid as health experts encourage "social distancing."

"As a pre-med student, I know that I can get sick just like everyone else, but the consequences won't be as severe. So I thought it’d be great to get a group of people together to help those who can't necessarily leave their house right now," she told TODAY Food.

Powell began to gather several members of her school's medical fraternity, Phi Delta Epsilon, to help and soon formed a group called Shopping Angels.

Download the TODAY app for the latest coverage on the coronavirus outbreak.

Soon it became clear that the need for grocery delivery across the nation was widespread, so Powell created a Facebook page on March 13 in the hopes of expanding her movement.

It quickly went viral.

"It's grown so much over the last few days! We have so many unread emails and messages and we are still trying to address the nationwide response to this movement," she said. "It’s amazing. I never expected it to be as big as what it is."

So, how does it work?

Once a "Shopping Angel" is connected with a local citizen in need, the volunteer will receive a shopping list, a budget and money. Some clients may even choose to order their groceries online and arrange for a drop-off at their home.

To help make sure her volunteers don't put the elderly at risk, Powell asks her Angels to wear gloves while picking up, transporting and delivering groceries. They also do not enter people's homes.

Unlike traditional shopping services that charge delivery fees ranging from $5 to $10, Powell's service is totally free. She also delivers to those with impaired immune systems.

Powell's goal is to set up a Shopping Angels groups in every state (you can get involved here) and she has also created a GoFundMe account to raise money for those who might not be able to afford groceries at this time. So far, she's raised almost $19,000.

Even though several grocery stores and retail chains have recently announced the rollout of "seniors only" hours to give elderly customers the opportunity to shop in safer environment, Powell said she's still being flooded with requests.

The third year psychology undergrad said she just welcomed five coordinators to sort through all the requests she's receiving.

This week, Anderson Dairy, a Las Vegas-based dairy company, committed to donating dairy products to the cause.

Having the chance to give back to her local community and encourage others to pick up the torch in their own neighborhoods has been a rewarding experience for Powell.

"So many people have emailed or messaged me thanking me. I’ve had people tell me that they cried when they heard this was an option for them," she said. "A lot of people feel very alone and don’t feel like they have someone to help them."

She also hopes that Shopping Angels is able to keep up the great work even when the current health crisis ends.

"A lot of our volunteers have already said they hope this continues. This is a community effort and I can’t do all of this without the help of everyone in the community," she said. "The fact that people want to continue this when quarantines are over shows me that this is something that could continue long into the future."