Things were pretty dark this past Friday in the Montclair ACME grocery store. I was there buying groceries for my grandparents, whose house I had moved out of a week earlier in order to limit their exposure. I noticed a person that seemed to belong to the “high risk” age range cautiously making their way through the store.
This gentleman was clearly in his sixties, and the items in his cart were those of someone who was trying to buy the bare necessities before getting the heck out of Dodge: canned goods, frozen foods, orange juice, some yogurt, and a few fruits and vegetables.
He proceeded to wipe the machine down with a Clorox wipe, buy his groceries with a card, wipe the card down after putting it in the machine, and then carefully maneuver his way out the sliding doors to the relative safety of the parking lot. The whole sequence lasted about as long as the song I was listening to on my headphones, but must have felt like an eternity to him.
I immediately felt ashamed of myself. Here I was, 26, worried about being exposed to COVID-19 because I was worried that my asthma might put me at higher risk than average. Meanwhile, someone who was clearly in an already dangerous age range, who could have far worse risk factors than me, was dashing from aisle to aisle like some dystopian frogger game.
As I walked out into the parking lot, I felt that familiar pang of helplessness that can derail an entire day. I took a deep breath and asked myself whether this was something truly beyond my control or if there something I could to help. Almost immediately, I realized best way to prevent this scene from becoming the norm was offering a free, no-contact, essential goods delivery service to "high-risk" individuals.
This group includes those who are more advanced in age than their fellow citizens as well as those with underlying health issues. A few minutes later, I realized that it was equally important to offer this no-contact delivery service to those who were self-quarantining because they were experiencing the symptoms of Coronavirus as well.
My childhood friend, who is working his way through medical school in New York City, helped me come up with procedures to minimize the risk of exposure and contamination of supplies. I asked my family if they were willing to help me do this by agreeing to lend me their car. They understood that letting me use the car for this endeavor meant increasing their own levels of exposure. This is the important part of my story. We are all in this together. I am not simply doing something I think can help my community.
Since then, I have been doing the grocery shopping for vulnerable residents in my town a few times a week and so far it’s going fine. They are grateful for the help and I am grateful to be able to contribute to their well-being.
We, as Montclarians, Essex County residents, New Jerseyans, North Easterners, and Americans, have a duty to share the burdens of this pandemic rather than force only a few select members of our society to carry the load alone.
I know many of you live with high risk people, or are scared to expose yourself or your children to this incredibly serious virus. No one will blame you for not putting yourself in harms way. However, everyday my brother and his girlfriend go to work as paramedics. My brother does the same thing as a New York City EMT. The three of them do this while being disgustingly under equipped with the supplies they need to keep themselves and their safe. I feel like helping someone older with their shopping is the least I can do.
For the rest of us, who feel helpless, try and remember the things that you can do to help. Facetime your friends and family. Donate money to the food kitchens, like Tony’s Kitchen in Montclair that just spent their year’s budget in a single week trying to feed public school children. Offer to volunteer. If you just lost your job, Amazon, Walmart, ACME, and dozens of other essential businesses are hiring.
It’s time for the rest of us to stop watching and get in the fight alongside them. “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” Don’t let fear keep you from being part of the solution.