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Free grocery delivery service a benefit to seniors and volunteers

A few volunteer grocery pickup/delivery services for seniors and the city's vulnerable populations have emerged since COVID-19.
Bag-Half-Full, Helping Hands and other services will pick up and deliver groceries to seniors and vulnerable populations. The services are free, users need only pay for the cost of their grocery order. Photo: supplied.

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in mid-March, second year University of Alberta medical students Ria Rana and Inderdeet Mander were at the grocery store, shopping alongside a group of seniors. The idea of a grocery shopping and delivery service for this age group kicked in quickly for the industrious duo, who--within less than a month--launched Bag-Half-Full, a free grocery pick up and delivery service for seniors in Edmonton and with branches across the country.

"We felt useless when everything hit, and we just wanted to take pressure off front-line workers," said Rana, who with Mander continues full-time online med school studies while leading a group of 60 local volunteers to pick-up online grocery orders and deliver to seniors across the city at no charge.

"We reimburse the volunteer drivers for gas, and that's it. A Go Fund Me campaign has already raised about $3,000, when our goal was just $500. People want to donate and help in some way. And those that receive the help are very thankful too."

Beyond pick up and delivery of online orders at the big grocery store chains, Bag-Half-Full options include doing the shopping too. Users submit their grocery lists online or by phone--and can even opt for a locally-focused shop at either the Old Strathcona Farmers Market or Downtown Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Payment for the grocery orders can be done via e-transfer, or with cash left in an envelope. A text upon arrival and doorstep drop off makes it all contact-free and as safe as possible. Rana said this successful delivery template has been adopted at new Bag-Half-Full operations in several cities around the country.

"These are high-risk groups that shouldn't be out shopping. We can shop or pick up and deliver your prescriptions too, at no charge to you. You just pay for the cost of your groceries and essentials," added Rana."We've already done over 200 deliveries in Edmonton, and the responses from seniors are always so positive. One left a teary message of thanks. Many people are isolated, neglected and scared, and need help with these basic, but important tasks."

"Our goal is to assist the elderly, those who are immunocompromised and those who are self-isolating. As long as there's no vaccine, we plan to keep going as long as the pandemic does. It's a way for us all to make a positive contribution," she adds.

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That same inspiration, simply to help where help is needed, is behind the Helping Hands initiative founded by the Wolfe Automotive Group.

Launched in Canmore in early April by brother/sister owners Ashley and Harrison Wolfe (and his wife Kristy), Helping Hands now offers free grocery pickup and delivery to seniors in Edmonton, Calgary and Canmore. A handful of specially-marked vehicles are driven by a rotation of staff from Wolfe Automotive Group's dealerships: Western GMC Buick, Westgate Chevrolet and Wolfe Cadillac in Edmonton, GSL GMC in Calgary, and Wolfe Chevrolet Buick GMC in Canmore.

"This program took off quickly once COVID-19 shut things down. We were already doing quite a bit of charitable work, but now, if a request comes to us and we can facilitate it, then we're happy to look at it," said Ashley Wolfe, president of Wolfe Automotive Group. 

"It's amazing to me how strangers can work together to make things happen. People are grateful for the delivery of groceries or a meal, and the simple human connection. Some are isolated seniors, and others have young families or are homeless, so it's meaningful to us to be able to offer this free service--a gift from us to you," said Donna Zazulak, Helping Hands Coordinator.

"We know about servicing and detailing vehicles, so sanitation protocols have been easy to follow. Our vehicles are regularly disinfected between grocery shopping trips, and drivers have the masks and gloves and do pickup and drop offs without any contact to offer the safest possible service."

Partnering with Save-on-Foods for online grocery orders, Zazulak and the Helping Hands team take calls (in Edmonton - 587-785-7749; Calgary – 403 265 7690; Canmore – 403 678 4222) to coordinate the online grocery order and to determine delivery instructions.

Zazulak said the initiative isn't slowing down at all; in fact, the company is meeting community need in varying ways as weeks go by. Recently, Helping Hands has joined with Meals on Wheels Edmonton to deliver frozen or ready-to-eat meals to seniors, and with The Mustard Seed in both Edmonton and Calgary to deliver hampers, plan a clothing drive or shop for groceries. The business has also partnered with Christensen Developments and The Italian Centre Shop for its charitable efforts.

"We're helping out as needed. I picked up flowers with one grocery order the other day, for one sister to give to her other sister. Another person needed vitamins, so I stopped for that too. We're serving--that's how I see it," said Zazulak, adding that by the end of May, Helping Hands will have served over 9,000 families.