Students found grocery shopping service for seniors during pandemic

May 28, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- It all started with a 1 a.m. text.

After the University announced its decision to transition to remote learning for the remainder of the spring semester, Penn State freshman Robert Esgro had stayed up until the early hours of the morning watching news coverage about the novel coronavirus pandemic. He realized that the world was entering an unprecedented time of challenge and uncertainty, unlike anything he had seen before.

But he also realized something else. He could do something about it.

So he texted three of his closest friends he had made at University Park with an idea: a nonprofit grocery shopping and delivery service for seniors and people with compromised immune systems, so that people at the most risk from the pandemic wouldn’t need to venture out and risk transmission while buying groceries.

“[This is] a global issue — it’s an all of us issue. ‘We Are’ all in this together, and we’re just trying to do our part.”

— Robert Esgro, Shop4Seniors president

“My first thought was, ‘You’re crazy! How are we going to do this?’” said Michael Usilton about receiving that text. “But I kept thinking about it, and I got more and more into it. I’m all in now. We’re definitely going to make a difference.”

So Esgro — along with Usilton and fellow students Alec Smith, Thomas Worcester and Stanton Godshall — formed the organization Shop4Seniors to help make a difference in their communities during a time of need.

“When all of this was first starting, I remember feeling like there was a lot of hopelessness, but that we had an obligation to the people who were the most vulnerable to the virus,” Esgro said. “We’re trying to accomplish something important because it needs to be done.”

The process is simple. If an individual needs groceries but is unable to safely travel outside, whether due to old age or medical reasons such as being immunocompromised, they can contact Shop4Seniors. Case workers or other community organizations can also reach out to Shop4Seniors on behalf of their clients.

From there, one of the students assigns that individual and their grocery needs to a Shop4Seniors volunteer. The volunteer then purchases the requested items, while wearing protective equipment and following strict sanitation practices, and no-contact delivers them to their home. The individual only ever pays for the cost of the groceries themselves, with no other costs, fees, or even tip.

Liz Libson lives outside of Philadelphia, which has seen a high number of confirmed coronavirus cases. Currently being pregnant and having a young son with a lung condition, she didn’t feel safe venturing out to buy groceries — and describes her Shop4Seniors volunteer as “an angel.”

“It really shows a sense of community, and that’s so important right now,” Libson said. “Finding this service and what they’re doing, it’s honestly amazing.”

Through leveraging social media, as well as their connections to the Penn State community, the Shop4Seniors team now leads more than 110 volunteers across include Philadelphia, Delaware, Montgomery, Allegheny, Centre, Berks and York counties.

“We have seen a phenomenal response from our colleagues at Penn State,” Esgro said. “We’ve seen that there are people looking to volunteer. They’re sitting down and thinking, ‘I need to do something.’ People want to help.”

Esgro said that, for all the difficulties posed by the pandemic, his experience with Shop4Seniors has demonstrated how Penn Staters come together during difficult times.

“That idea of ‘We Are,’ I think it’s taken on a new meaning for me,” Esgro said. “This pandemic, it’s not a Pennsylvania issue. It’s not an America issue. It’s a global issue — it’s an all of us issue. ‘We Are’ all in this together, and we’re just trying to do our part.”

"We Are" stories

The "We Are" spirit is perhaps more important than ever before, and Penn Staters everywhere are coming together in new and amazing ways. During these challenging times, our community is continuing to realize Penn State's commitment to excellence through acts of collaboration, thoughtfulness and kindness. As President Eric Barron has written on Digging Deeper, this truly is a "We Are" moment — and we want to hear your "We Are" stories.

Visit news.psu.edu/WeAre to share how you or other Penn Staters are supporting each other to overcome the collective challenges presented by COVID-19. We are!

Last Updated May 29, 2020