Sage Creek High School student Nolan Mejia has served as a STEM mentor at a Carlsbad elementary school, lent a hand during band performances at a North County middle school, and taught technology skills at a nearby senior center, so no one who knows him was surprised when he and a group of friends launched Grocery Grab, a free shopping and delivery service for scores of Carlsbad-area seniors and other at-risk individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I just love volunteering,” Nolan said. “It feels good to help people.”

Grocery Grab is helping more than the seniors it serves too. Every penny of the more than $1,500 in tips donated to the service has been forwarded directly to the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund that is addressing myriad needs created by the coronavirus crisis by providing more than $11 million to nonprofits ranging from Alpha Project for the Homeless to Voices of Our City. Grocery Grab is among the 3,000 individuals, donor-advised fund, businesses, and foundations that have donated since it was established more than two months ago.

“We’re just giving back to the San Diego community,” Nolan said. “We need to stay united and strong as a whole. The Community Response Fund is helping us do that.”

Nolan, a junior with straight A’s who wants to study business and biomedical sciences, said Grocery Grab evolved from discussions with family and friends shortly after the coronavirus shelter-in-place orders were announced. Seniors and those susceptible to being infected by the disease that has claimed more than 80,000 were urged not even to leave their homes to buy food. “I have grandparents in Los Angeles who have family buying them groceries, but not all seniors have that luxury,” he said.

Grocery Grab was launched March 18. Nolan got the word out by printing informational flyers that were distributed at the Carlsbad Senior Center during meal distributions, word of mouth, and Nextdoor.

Seniors can email to get information and request support for groceries and errands. The Sage Creek High School students volunteering with Grocery Grab – Nolan, Bella Niems, Trisha Tong, Blythe Diaz, Jackie Tucker, George Jenov, and Alex Mathios – pay for the groceries out of pocket. Seniors reimburse the students via Venmo, cash or check when the food is delivered.

The response has been unanimously positive.

“I cannot thank Grocery Grab enough for their efficient, conscientious grocery service,” wrote one senior.

“The team at Grocery Grab helped my mother get the groceries she needed safely and efficiently,” wrote the daughter of another. “They were communicative, responsive, and provided clear instructions throughout the process.”

Volunteers are clear when taking orders that the service is free. It was only after seniors insisted on providing tips that all tips were collected and sent to the COVID-19 Community Response Fund.

Carlsbad resident June Pasini, 85, has called Grocery Grab several times since she learned about it through Nextdoor. “It’s a wonderful service that they’re providing to the community,” she said. “I’ll even get a text or a call from Nolan while he’s out shopping telling me that they may be out of a certain brand of item and asking if he could buy another brand instead. They don’t ask for a donation at all, but we’re happy to include a little extra in the check and contribute in any way that we can.”

Grocery Grab has spent more than $5,000 to date buying more than 1,800 items. Seniors are notified when an order will be delivered. It’s not unusual, Nolan said, for volunteers wearing facemasks to have a friendly conversation – through a screen door – when dropping off their order. “A lot of seniors can feel lonely at this time and having someone to talk to can make a difference,” Nolan said.

You, too, can make a difference. Donate to the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund today.