Seniors Get Help With Shopping

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There's no way the Klondike ice cream sandwiches would make it.

They would melt, soak through the bag and make a mess on the bus on the way home. So 84-year-old Florence Makin has them delivered--along with her other groceries every two weeks.

It's not that she can't go shopping herself. But she's arthritic and often doesn't feel up to it. Besides, groceries are so heavy to haul on and off a bus.

So she uses Shop-A-Hoy, a nonprofit service provided by seniors for other seniors and the disabled who can't shop for themselves.

The program, with 35 volunteers, helps with one of the issues crucial to staying independent as the years creep by: getting groceries. Judy Madaj, director of service development, said giving up driving means that seniors can't just pop into the market for some milk. And sometimes they can't find a way to get the food necessary to stay healthy.

That's where Shop-A-Hoy comes in.

Twice a week, volunteers take between 15 to 150 orders. Madaj said the program operates on Tuesdays in Ventura, Thursdays in Camarillo, and there are plans to expand to Thousand Oaks. She said they have had requests from residents as far away as Santa Barbara and Santa Monica.

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One recent Tuesday, a group of eight volunteers gathered at a Vons supermarket in Ventura at 8:30 a.m. and set off with lists, aisle numbers and good intentions.

"There are a lot of people who would just do without because they couldn't make it to the store," said Shirlee Locke, 75, who has volunteered with the program for about a year.

"Sometimes I will get an order for several gallon jugs of milk or 40 pounds of dog food and I just know they couldn't carry it home. If I couldn't do my shopping, I would hope someone would do this for me," she said, standing in front of a full cart and checking items off her list.

The patrons of the service usually pay between $3 and $5 for each grocery run, depending on the amount spent at the store, according to Dave Berger, who co-founded the program with Madaj about two years ago. After the volunteers finish picking groceries off the shelves and paying for them, Berger, Madaj and others spend most of the rest of the day making deliveries.

"I really think our success is due to the fact that we don't assign a single person to each senior," said Madaj. "That way people can take a vacation and not feel guilty. There is not that pressure."

Berger, a humorous 77-year-old who likes to introduce himself as Bill Clinton just to get a laugh, said about 40% of the seniors who use the program would prefer to drive to the store and shop for themselves but can't for physical or psychological reasons.

"We don't do this for folks who just dislike shopping. We do it for people who need it," he said.

Evelyn Tucker of Ventura, an 89-year-old with bright white hair, blushed when Berger knelt on one knee to plant a solid kiss on her hand as he arrived with her groceries.

"This is a marvelous service for people like me who can't get out," she said, seated in front of a table full of recently purchased Little Debbie Honey Buns, Jello Pudding snacks and a pair of two-pound bags of tangerines. She said a paid caregiver takes her from her trailer park residence to her doctor appointments.

But it would be difficult to get her groceries without Shop-A-Hoy.

"I don't get on public transportation," she said. "Why torture myself? I have a walker."

Elmer Smith, a retired contractor, said his life would be more difficult without Shop-A-Hoy. "My daughter and son would buy my groceries for me, but they're extremely busy."

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Sitting near a table strewn with granola bars and instant soup, the 74-year-old said his Social Security income only gets him so far each month.

"If I didn't have them, I would have to find someplace that delivered [prepared food], and that would cut down on the amount I could provide for myself," Smith said.

Art Kinne, one of the volunteers, said he's helping provide a necessary service.

"If you were confined to your home, you would want someone to help you maintain your lifestyle," he said. "I'm helping people do that."

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