There’s a service for that: grocery shopping in the times of a pandemic

Poly High School student Jacob Kraus works on the COVID Connections website, where he facilitates the connection between a person in need of grocery shopping to a volunteer. About a dozen connections have been made since March 19.

Judy Anderson has found a handyman and an acupuncturist through good intuition and an online search in the past. But in today’s world, during a global health pandemic, she was simply searching for someone who would deliver her groceries.

Not too far from her, Long Beach Poly High School student Jacob Kraus sat wondering what he could do to help people in a meaningful way during the pandemic now that school was closed.

“I knew that medically-vulnerable people would have to stay […] home at this time, which would pose a challenge in getting out for necessities and other errands they may have (i.e. grocery shopping),” Kraus said. “I additionally was aware there are healthy people in the community who want to help, but I found that there was no platform that was directly connecting those in their community who needed help with those who could help.”

Realizing the need for this kind of platform, Kraus created COVID Connections on March 19, an online service that connects people who need groceries to a network of over 30 volunteers in the Long Beach and Los Angeles area, who will shop and deliver for them at no extra cost.

At 16, Kraus’ primary role is to facilitate the connection process between the person in need to a nearby volunteer while coordinating the request, but he also jumps in to deliver.

So, when Anderson’s search led her to COVID Connections, it was Kraus who fulfilled her order.

“He was very diligent about his shopping,” Anderson said. “He called me several times to be sure he was getting the exact item I had requested. He even took photos of products and sent them to me so I could decide which brand and quantity I wanted. I was very impressed and so pleased that he cared that much about getting exactly what I wanted.”

She is one of a dozen connections made so far.

To ensure this level of satisfaction, Kraus has two online forms on COVID Connections, one for volunteers and one for those who need help with shopping. For those who need help, the form asks for an address and a phone number, items needed and where they should be bought. It also asks how the volunteer will be reimbursed (cash, venmo. etc.).

The website notes that although the service is intended to primarily assist with groceries and other supplies, volunteers will try to help with other requests.

For volunteers, certain requirements need to be met and are reiterated on the form. They include being free of any COVID-19 related symptoms, willingness to wear gloves or other protective gear, transportation, and being comfortable with paying for groceries before being reimbursed.

Local community member Lawrence Chen met all of these requirements and wanted to get involved after hearing about COVID Connections on NextDoor, a neighborhood hub where community members often exchange information, goods or services.

“What encouraged me to volunteer was knowing that God blessed me with my finances and health, so I wanted to use those blessings for good to help those who are in need,” Chen said. “During this global health pandemic, many people might have lost their health or their jobs and this is a time when we need to look out for each other.”

Chen’s delivery was to a man he presumed was feeling under the weather and in need of soup and gatorade.

“The man receiving the food was very thankful and also said he [would] pay it forward once he feels better,” Chen said.

This was Kraus’ vision all along.

“My mission for COVID Connections is to offer relief in a time of stress for anyone in need through building a network of dedicated volunteers to assist,” Kraus said.

The high school junior is looking to expand the services of COVID-Connections soon.

“I’m working towards increasing our operations to donating medical supplies to local hospitals,” Kraus said. “My upcoming goal for COVID Connections is to expand the range of service and help that we provide […] to other cities/states and truly have a nationwide impact during this hard, unprecedented time with COVID-19.”

According to Kraus, he and two other teenagers in California are working together to create a fundraising effort for ventilators that would take place throughout the Central and Southern part of the state. An announcement will be forthcoming on the COVID Connections website.

So far, Kraus has had offers for collaboration to expand from people out of state, namely Portland, Oregon.

“My goal everyday is to grow the operation and see if there’s any new ways to help, whether it be a new way people can help or a new area that could use help.”

Kraus’ mission is well on its way.


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