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Wednesday, April 8 Coronavirus in Connecticut

‘Remarkable’ Westport teens run errands for elderly during pandemic

WESTPORT — In a quiet neighborhood, a small group of students gathered to record a video singing “Happy Birthday.”

The performance was a gift for Westport resident Audrey Doniger, who would be celebrating her 85th birthday at her home. With the looming threat of the coronavirus, Doniger, as well as many other elderly residents, have minimized their time outside.

“I just think it’s unfortunate she should have to celebrate her birthday like this,” Jonathan Lorenz, a Staples High School junior, said on Thursday.

Lorenz alongside several other Westport teens have banded together to start an errand service that shops for residents, runs errands, and, occasionally, even sings songs.

Ty Chung, a Staples junior, said his mother, Robin Chung, sparked the idea of an errand system several days ago to help senior citizens who face severe risks by contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“The virus has affected kids much less than adults,” Ty said. “It’s safer for us to go out versus them having to go out into these crowds.”

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Residents can contact guyshelping@gmail.com to put in requests.

He then reached out to all of his friends to build a team to serve the town; they call themselves “Guys Helping.”

Lorenz said residents can email grocery lists to guyshelping@gmail.com. The group then puts someone in contact with the resident who will gather the items, take a photo of the receipt, and deliver it to the resident’s doorsteps. They are also open to delivering food orders, or running errands like picking up items from a hardware store.

In the midst of their efforts, the youths all still practice social distancing, while also providing some comfort to elderly residents during a time of uncertainty.

“We’ve slowly been picking up traction,” Lorenz said, noting he’ll be making his first delivery on Friday. “I assume more and more people will contact us.”

Will Matar, another Staples junior, said he has heard stories of senior citizens who aren’t able to do certain activities due to the spread of coronavirus, particularly the large outbreak in Westport.

“The situation we’re in is just really unfortunate,” Matar said. “People aren’t able to go out and get something as simple as paper towels. I just want to help out in any way I can.”

Junior Clara Holleman said when she was contacted about the idea, she was happy to help people in town.

“We thought it was important since people can’t get out of their house that they have an available resource to get things easier,” she said.

With limited distractions due to schools and stores closed or limiting hours, Robin surmised people are realizing what the important things in life are.

“I think it’s nice for a high school student to feel they’re contributing to a society instead of feeling they’re constantly taking from it,” she said. “I also think they’re so accustomed to having adults take care of them that’s it exciting for them to actually be able to be the ones taking care of adults. It’s an empowering feeling.”

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The errand service is already garnering attention around town too.

Frances Pollak, a 81-year-old resident, said she heard about the service and decided to try it out Thursday.

She provided a short list of items including bread, eggs and milk through email at 11 a.m. By 2 p.m. a student had the groceries at her front door.

“It was just so remarkable,” Pollak said. “He came to the door, put my packages down. I gave him a check and tried to give him a tip. ... He really didn’t want the tip. He said to me, ‘No this is a volunteer service.’”

“I think when there’s something as serious as this, a real crisis, people pull together and they help,” Pollak said, adding the students represented Westport’s best. “It can come from the most unexpected places and the most unexpected people.”

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com

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