Living alone and challenged with myriad health issues, Trudy relies on ElderHelp volunteers for grocery shopping and joining her for friendly walks in her San Diego neighborhood or collaborating on art projects. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all that.

“As soon as I saw on the news that I couldn’t have visitors, I worried about what I would do,” she said. “I don’t drive, and I don’t use the internet to order groceries. But just a few hours later, ElderHelp called me. They called me! I want to give you a million billion thanks for sending the grocery shopper over to my house. It was just extraordinary kindness. I know he had to wait over an hour to get into the store, and he brought me enough groceries to last at least a few weeks. I feel so much more secure about having things to cook and to eat. ElderHelp volunteers just blow my mind. I’m so grateful.”

The coronavirus pandemic and its resulting stay-at-home orders have perhaps impacted no population more profoundly than the region’s seniors. Some 23 percent of the more than 462,000 county residents aged 65 and older do not have enough income to meet basic needs, and nearly 10 percent live at or below the federal poverty level.

Thanks to a $50,000 grant from the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund at The San Diego Foundation – which has distributed more than $3.1 million to nonprofits supporting low-income workers, families and vulnerable communities most affected by the coronavirus crisis – Elderhelp has been able to step up its game. The $50,000 San Diego Foundation grant will pay for general operating expenses, doorstep delivery of groceries, and vetting a surging number of people offering to volunteer with the agency.

The nonprofit, meanwhile, continues to offer rides for seniors who must meet with a doctor or pick up a prescription.

Elderhelp, which serves more than 6,500 seniors annually throughout San Diego County, has increased its grocery deliveries by more than 200 percent and has seen the number of calls for services jump by 150 percent since the crisis began, said Executive Director Deb Martin. Phone calls to seniors have quadrupled, meanwhile, to compensate for the personal visits that are restricted because of social distancing guidelines.

“Elderhelp is one of the few agencies in the county that goes into the homes of our seniors in providing them with the services they need,” Martin said. “Our senior population right now is isolated and staying at home. They can’t go out, they can’t get their groceries, they can’t get to the pharmacy. The stories of desperation we have heard are heartbreaking.”

Smiling woman holding up a sign that says "I volunteeer because... Seniors bring me joy!"

The community is responding.

Approximately 30% of Elderhelp volunteers are seniors themselves and are forced to stay put at home, however the nonprofit has seen a significant spike in younger people who are calling to volunteer. To meet increased demand, Elderhelp has scheduled weekly, online Volunteer Orientations each Wednesday.

“If there is a silver lining in this, it is that more people are becoming aware of our seniors and what they’re going through.”

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