Karen Liu, Store to Door
It takes a lot of help to be an independent senior in this country, as Karen Liu and Store to Door have discovered delivering food to aging households in the Twin Cities areas. Through a call-in ordering system and spot-on delivery service – much of it volunteer led – the organization is helping the Twin Cities care for its seniors at a time in life when independence requires a lot of teamwork.
It takes a lot of help to be an independent senior in this country, and in the Twin Cities area, Karen Liu is making it possible for a community of concerned neighbors to do just that.
Supported by over 400 volunteers, Store to Door shops for and delivers groceries to approximately 500 households in the Twin Cities area – ultimately bringing a much-needed lifeline to around 1,200 adults and ensuring that dignity is a possibility for Minnesota's aging residents.
As a young nonprofit professional, Liu's story is one that’s increasingly common today. An active volunteer before she graduated from Northwestern University, Liu chose a nonprofit job that would put her in direct contact with the kind of social change she wanted to see in the world.
"I ultimately chose a career in nonprofit management so that I can manage social change in measurable ways," said Liu, who studied speech pathology and Asian studies.
Liu says a stint working on affordable housing issues really drove home the point about the connection between access and independence for aging adults.
"Groceries are as necessary for independent living as affordable housing, and I could understand the need for grocery delivery when people have limited mobility," she said.
The logistics of feeding so many are daunting. After volunteers on phones get orders from participating seniors, volunteer shoppers at five Twin Cities locations hit the stores early, often at day break, to fill up as many as 40 grocery carts before regular customers arrive.
The organization partners a local grocery chain, Cub Foods, to get the deliveries out.
Not every Store to Door volunteer is local. The organization has also taken advantage of VolunteerMatch's national network to recruit virtual volunteers from outside the area for crucial phone order roles where just a phone and Internet access are needed.
Finding the right volunteer shopper is never easy, says Liu. Being able to shop weekday mornings, staying on your feet for several hours, and then filling orders with attention to detail can be a tough task.
"Treat every volunteer as if he or she were the only volunteer," she said.
Not surprisingly, the bonds that develop between Store to Door service recipients and its volunteers are unusually tight. Many of the organization’s volunteers have been part of the program for ten years or more.
Liu describes the commitment she sees in her work as one of the great inspirations in her life.
"As a volunteer coordinator I get to work with some of the most altruistic, dedicated members of society – those who have high standards for every person’s quality of life," she said.
Liu says much of this dedication is the natural outcome of such close and intimate contact with the population of seniors being directly served.
"[It's encouraging] to see inter-generational bonds forming when younger order takers call seniors for their grocery orders, and shopper volunteers of all ages chat while filling orders at the grocery store," she said. "Our society is so age-conscious, yet these labels don’t do justice to the unique individuals within."
Of course, Liu’s own story shows that the seniors served by Store to Door aren't the only unique individuals in this story.
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About Store to Door
Supported by the efforts of over 400 volunteers, Store to Door shops for and delivers groceries to approximately 500 households a week, serving over 1,000 adults who are unable to shop for themselves. Partnering with five strategically-located Cub Foods stores to deliver competitively-priced, quality product to our customers, the organization delivers every two weeks across the seven-county metro area.
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