Since the health crisis started, people in our area have been thinking of creative ways to help others. We've shared the stories of the local teens transitioning their scrunchie business to a face mask business and the family in Snohomish brightening up their neighborhood with 'Corona Lights.'
When Issaquah native Grace Chen heard about what was happening, the college student quickly created a way to connect high-risk individuals with volunteers to assist them with tasks like grocery shopping, prescription pick up and more. The site is called The Shopper Next Door, and we couldn't wait to sit down and [virtually] chat with Chen about her efforts.
Seattle Refined: Hi Grace! So, you started Shopper Next Door - a site basically matching up high-risk individuals who maybe can't get out, with volunteers.
Grace Chen: When the pandemic hit Washington the hardest, I was still in California for school. I felt really helpless, you know - growing concern over my parents, senior citizens in my neighborhood and just vulnerable members of the community. Returning home in mid-March, I really wanted to create a platform to mobilize lower risk, healthy young individuals to help take care of our higher-risk neighbors. And this was really the start of Shopper Next Door. Right now, we're just focused on the local greater Seattle area, and what we found is there's an overwhelming amount of people that need some support right now but an equally overwhelming amount of people who are really excited to help.
You're a local gal - you went to Issaquah High School, and now you're in college, so you're still fairly young yourself.
Yeah, my 20th birthday is this summer.
That's pretty amazing. Who are some of these high-risk individuals?
We really want to help anyone who might need an extra hand right now. So, of course, that does mean our higher-risk individuals who are community members over 65 years old or who are immunocompromised, but that also means people who are single parents, low-income individuals, people with disabilities. We know that this pandemic has really disrupted daily life. You just never know which one of your neighbors might need some extra support right now.
So how does this differ from a grocery store delivery service?
Those [grocery store delivery] services right now - most of them cost money, and Shopper Next Door is completely free. Those services are really overwhelmed with high demand right now, for example, Instacart. There's a lot of website crashes and just really delayed deliveries.
How do you guys follow the social distancing guidelines?
Our shoppers, every time they set out to do something, they're required to wear masks. When our shoppers make a grocery delivery, they put it on the front porch, and then we ask the neighbor when they pick it up to wipe down all the groceries.
Just to be clear, your volunteers are all volunteers. They aren't getting paid for their time or effort. They're just doing this cause they want to help?
Yeah, most of the volunteers are college students like myself who have returned home from school but we also do have some adults in our community. And all of them are so excited to help. Every time they make a delivery, they leave a handwritten, personalized note.
How does it make you feel knowing you are really helping people in a really tangible way?
At the end of the day, I am just really excited to be playing a small part in this overall community effort, But throughout this whole experience, I've seen how amazing it is that this community is coming together and the community being unified is making all the difference right now. That's something that's been the most rewarding about this experience.
If you'd like to volunteer or need an extra hand, you can visit The Shopper Next Door online or call them at 425-522-2674.