At 18, Jasleen Gill feels a sense of responsibility. From her family’s Media home, the Penncrest High School senior has been running a delivery service for the last week, as social restrictions intensify and older people and those with underlying health problems are urged to stay in their homes due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We should practice social distancing,” Gill said, “but now is also the time to come out and help.”
With the assistance of her 11-year-old brother, Ranvir, and a few volunteers, Gill has been taking orders and delivering groceries to seniors, as well as families who are particularly worried about being exposed to the virus. She calls her effort the Corona Relief Squad, and by Monday it had made 65 deliveries to households across Delaware County.
The teenager is among many people across the region who’ve felt called to help their neighbors. Some have turned to community Facebook groups to offer to run errands, or walk dogs, or donate items to people who are struggling financially or to those who are afraid to go outside due to health conditions that make them more vulnerable.
In the city, there’s Philly Mutual Aid — Neighbors Helping Neighbors, a group that matches people in need with neighbors who can help. Last weekend, a Mount Laurel couple said they bought and delivered groceries for more than 100 families.
In Havertown, Maddie Kelly-Gambescia said she thought of at-risk people often as she stocked up on food and other essentials for her family last week.
“Every time I’m out, I think about all the people who are literally fearing for their lives when they go out and get groceries,” she said. “I just felt really sad last week.”
She wanted to check on her elderly neighbors, she said, but she also didn’t want to come in close contact with them. After talking with friends, the 31-year-old logged onto her computer and made a Facebook group to rally volunteers. Within days, more than 100 people from Chester County to Philadelphia signed up to help run errands and shop for others, she said, but they struggled to get the word out to people who might need the service. She said she plans to reach out to senior centers and nursing homes.
“It’s just a time when people need to come together,” Kelly-Gambescia said. “We need to help each other right now, and we’ll get through this.”
Gill’s project, the Corona Relief Squad, took off after she helped some seniors at her Sikh temple in Upper Darby. From there, word began to spread. After she started the Facebook page, more people reached out.
She and her mother, Inderjit Othie, pick up the groceries at local supermarkets, and Gill packages bags for delivery. The squad only delivers sealed items, wipes down all packages before delivery, wears gloves, and does not make physical contact at drop-off, she said.
The service is free, she said, and she hopes to continue it as long as officials permit. Or, she added, as long as her parents feel comfortable with her leaving the house.
At first, the teenager funded the initiative herself with money she made doing immunological research at the University of Pennsylvania and working for a home-health agency analyzing infection-control data. But that money ran out fast, she said, so for now, her parents are footing the bill.
“If one person has to go out and save 65 families from going out ... [my parents] are seeing how much of a difference that’s making,” she said. To take some burden off her family, she started a GoFundMe effort that quickly raised $1,000, including $400 from two middle schoolers. Any excess money will go to the city’s COVID-19 fund, she said.