Local volunteers are stepping up to make sure that those identified as the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus can avoid situations that would put them at risk.

Cindy Gustafson, founder and president of Tracy Seniors Association, said her group has long helped seniors with everyday tasks such as grocery shopping, which is an even bigger challenge now. She and the group’s volunteers found on Monday that a shopping trip to stock up for the week has become an odyssey across stores all over Tracy.

“The only store I found with meat today was La Plaza on Tracy Boulevard. Every other store was sold out of meat today,” she said. “The only store that had milk was Save Mart, so you have to do some running around to find what you need.”

Gustafson said that with state and local agencies asking that people age 65 and older stay home, she expected more people would contact her group. She also put out word to local seniors living at Village Gardens apartments on East Street, Tracy Senior Apartments on 12th Street and Morehead Park near 11th Street and Chrisman Road. After distributing a flyer on Monday, she was flooded with requests for assistance by midweek.

“My phone has been blowing up. I’m just trying to get to the seniors I know,” she said on Wednesday. “This is just from the flyers we sent out to our residents.”

She expected a logistical challenge. Gustafson said she got calls from about 10 people who wanted to volunteer on Monday.

“We’ve had people say, ‘We want to help. What can we do?’” she said. “It’s just gathering that group of volunteers in one spot and saying, who do we have? Let’s build a database of about 25, I’m thinking, is probably good. And then, simultaneously, let’s go out and get the customers.”

Gustafson figures she’s getting the calls from those who need the service because she is already familiar to Tracy seniors. In some cases when she sends a volunteer to a senior’s home, the person will give cash and a shopping list to the volunteer, who does the shopping and returns with groceries, a receipt and any change. Other times, the client wants to go on the shopping trip and pay in person, in which case the volunteer is there to stand in the checkout line for as long as it takes.

Gustafson added that seniors typically want to run errands during the day, so new volunteers should be people who are home during the day and can spare a couple of hours to go shopping.

Grace Church on Tracy Boulevard also has started taking deliveries of groceries and other essentials to seniors and people in need. Associate pastor Chris Lovelace said the church would buy groceries for as long as it had the budget to do so.

“At this point we’re paying for most of the groceries that are going out and we’re encouraging donations so we can help other people,” he said.

The church started shopping and making deliveries on Tuesday. Once word got out, the church got a few more requests for assistance — and a lot more offers from volunteers.

“We have drivers, shoppers, some prayer warriors, delivery coordinators,” he said. “I think it will continue to expand the more we get it out in front of people.”

Lovelace said he has 25 volunteers now with more coming forward, enough that he’s encouraging other charities who need volunteers to call him so he can connect them with people who want to help.

Contact Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com or 830-4227.

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