Maryland Teens Start No-Contact Delivery Service for Seniors amid Coronavirus Crisis
Matt Casertano and Dhruv Pai founded Teens Helping Seniors, a program dedicated to delivering essentials to the elderly
Matt Casertano, 15, and Dhruv Pai, 16, from Montgomery County started Teens Helping Seniors, a free program dedicated to delivering essentials to the elderly during the coronavirus crisis, in late March in hopes of helping those who may have difficulties with leaving their homes for groceries and medication.
The service provides no-contact delivery to minimize the risk of spreading the virus. Seniors who require assistance can simply email Teens Helping Seniors with their address and grocery list and the organization will connect them with a volunteer who can help pick up and drop off their request at their doorstep.
Casertano tells PEOPLE he started the program with Pai after delivering groceries to his grandparents, one of whom was hospitalized for three months last year after coming down with the flu.
“My grandparents are both living in an apartment building,” he says. “So when this virus came around, I was obviously extremely worried because he’s in a building where he has to be around a lot of people to get anywhere.”
“I know there are a lot of seniors who don’t have any family to fall back on during this time and life must be especially hard for them,” Pai explains. “I thought, ‘Maybe there’s a way I could help them as a teen, who is in a lower age risk group for during the coronavirus pandemic.'”
To ensure everyone’s safety, volunteers will shop for seniors while wearing masks and gloves and wipe down bags before dropping them off at the front door. They will also call clients 15 minutes before a delivery so they can leave payment for grocery costs at the door for the volunteer to pick up.
An FAQ for Teens Helping Seniors says the helpers “cannot take donations” and “the most our volunteers are allowed to accept during deliveries is gas money,” though they encourage those wanting to donate to contribute to the CDC Foundation instead.
“I find that a lot of media have portrayed teens in a negative light during the coronavirus pandemic,” Pai says. “One of my personal goals for this organization is to bring the generations together and to really show them that, despite our differences, we can still help each other.”
As most of the volunteers are of Asian decent, Casertano says he hopes the organization will help “combat the stigma” against the Asian American community during the pandemic.
The program has already registered more than 60 volunteers and made over 120 deliveries in the two and a half weeks since its inception, according to Pai.
“Everyday we get more and more volunteers and more and more seniors, so we’re expanding exponentially every single day,” Pai tells PEOPLE. “We’re growing really, really fast.”
As the program continues to rapidly grow, Teens Helping Seniors are looking for more volunteers to help during the coronavirus crisis. A post shared on its Twitter on Wednesday is asking for volunteers in the Howard, Baltimore and Prince George’s Counties as the organization has been “getting requests from seniors” in those areas.
“Everyone we know is doing this out of the kindness of their own hearts,” Casertano says. “We want to inspire other teenagers in other parts of the country and around the world to start similar projects.”
The organization has already had teens reach out from Pennsylvania and Texas looking for advice on how to start their own local chapters, Pai says.
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Given the growing amount of interest in their service, Casertano adds that Teens Helping Seniors will “definitely continue” its delivery program after the coronavirus pandemic as “there are still people who physically can’t get groceries for themselves.”
Older adults and people with serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease are at a higher risk of getting seriously ill from the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. They are encouraged to avoid crowds as much as possible and to keep away from others in public.
As of Wednesday, there have been at least 633,267 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, with 28,278 deaths from coronavirus-related illness, according to The New York Times.
Worldwide, there have more than 2 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and 130,238 deaths.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.