Arapahoe County grocery delivery program makes lasting connection

Those living with a disability may also qualify to have volunteers bring food, prescriptions

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Laura Bess and her family were staying home as the coronavirus ran rampant in Colorado last spring — she hadn’t even driven a car in a while. But she was praying for an opportunity to help others through the pandemic in some way.

It wasn’t long before she saw a post on social media about the Shoppers for Seniors program, an effort by Arapahoe County to connect volunteers with older residents who can’t shop for themselves amid the virus risk.

“I was shopping for my mom in Denver, and she was 75 at the time,” said Bess, who thought if she could help her mother, she could do the same for others.

Bess, a 41-year-old Centennial resident, signed up for the program and soon met Jean, who is 87 and lives near her in the Littleton-Centennial area off South Broadway.

Bess didn’t expect a lasting friendship to come out of shopping for Jean, but she felt like there was “an immediate connection,” she said. At first, Bess was making the trip on her own to Jean’s home, but soon, Bess’ 10-year-old daughter was tagging along.

“My husband had to work one evening when I had to get her groceries, and I asked Sophie if she wanted to go with me,” Bess said. When Sophie met Jean, “it was just two peas in a pod,” Bess added.

Sophie and Jean partly bonded over a shared love of dolls — Jean was “quite a seamstress in her day,” sewing her clothes and clothes for her kids, Bess said.

Jean would “not only make dolls but make the whole wardrobe for the dolls,” Bess said. “Sophie loves Build-a-Bear (stuffed animals), and we do them for her birthday. We got a Build-a-Bear for her birthday in March, she and Jean had an amazing conversation — Jean was blown away by the outfit on this thing. It was adorable.”

Every two weeks since last June, Bess has delivered to Jean, and Sophie “runs all over the store and knows what Jean likes,” Bess laughed.

“I feel like going through something like COVID is really scary,” Bess said of her daughter. She added: “Helping Jean, I feel like it’s a normalcy for her. Kids are so resilient and so adaptable, you know. It just surprises me how she’s thrived.”

But visiting Jean also taught Bess “to be open to how amazing” a new experience like participating in the program could be, Bess said.

Bess’ mother is single and also lives alone, so Bess picked up her mom and Jean and had an outdoor dinner months ago. Since then, Jean and Bess’ mom have kept in touch.

“It goes both ways,” Bess said. “I never expected that. I thought it would be us helping her out with groceries, but she’s just so positive.”

Even though Jean’s sight has deteriorated, “she’s just so resilient at 87, it makes me want to be like her,” Bess said.

The county’s Shoppers for Seniors program matches low-income seniors with a specific volunteer to be available once a week to pick up their groceries and prescriptions, according to a county information sheet. The program started in May 2020 in response to COVID-19 but could continue outside the context of the pandemic, according to Luc Hatlestad, a county spokesman.

“There is a need for shopping support that extends beyond COVID-19 safety concerns for high-risk folks,” Hatlestad said. While the program’s target audience may shift to include residents who can’t go to the store for other reasons and who don’t have the resources to use grocery delivery services, the program will continue indefinitely, Hatlestad added. Those who are 60 or older or living with a disability may qualify.

Volunteers aren’t expected to pay for the groceries themselves; they use money from the person for whom they’re shopping, Bess said.

Email Nira Duvan, volunteer coordinator, at nduvan@arapahoegov.com or call 303-738-7938 for more information.

“It’s far easier,” Bess said, “and far more rewarding than you would imagine.”

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