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.
VolunteerMatch is proud to support the efforts of Store to Door to serve its independent seniors – and we’re here to help your organization, too. When’s the last time you updated your VolunteerMatch account?
Committed volunteers are waiting. Log in today!