A pregnant Nashua mother with two young children was desperate to purchase two gallons of milk for her family, but with a stay-at-home order in place and public transit limited, the typical errand seemed like a monumental task.
That is when Samantha Cassista of Bedford, a volunteer with the United Way of Greater Nashua, stepped in to help the discouraged mother and fulfill her family’s basic food needs.
The United Way of Greater Nashua recently launched its Shop United program in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program is an online, volunteer-driven grocery shopping platform to help individuals and families in the region.
According to Mike Apfelberg, the president of the United Way of Greater Nashua, the concept is simple: Those who cannot leave their homes, do not have access to their usual modes of transportation or do not have a caregiver assisting them are welcome to use the Shop United program.
“We implemented a soft launch of the program last week, and so far we have processed over a dozen orders for people,” said Apfelberg.
While there is no cost for the service, customers pay using their credit card or public benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) while selecting the groceries they would like to order. A volunteer then reviews the shopping list, goes to the grocery store and purchases the items before dropping them off at the resident’s home, Apfelberg explained.
For one local customer, an 81-year-old resident who is confined to home because of an underlying condition, the program is vitally important, said Apfelberg.
“The big picture here is that we are in the business of saving lives. If we can keep people in their homes where they are safe and tucked away, that is what we will do,” he said.
For Cassista, the Shop United initiative is keeping her busy during these unsettling times.
“There is tension at the grocery store,” said Cassista, explaining some parents do not have the option of leaving their young children at home alone while they shop for food.
If she can help those parents avoid judgment or criticism, while also helping them avoid potential exposure to COVID-19, Cassista said she is happy to do it.
“This is just a small way that I can help the community continue with some type of normalcy,” she said. “I am so happy that this program is available, as this is the reality for some people.”
The program is available for residents in Nashua, Amherst, Brookline, Hollis, Hudson, Litchfield, Lyndeborough, Merrimack, Milford, Mont Vernon and Wilton. Apfelberg said there are still some minor issues with the program that will need to be resolved, but he is optimistic those will be addressed soon and that more families will take advantage of the service.
Maintaining the critical pipeline of food for residents during the pandemic is paramount, he said, adding it is also important that citizens make every attempt to stay at home.
To access Shop United, visit https://unitedwaynashua.org/home/our-work/covid-19-response/shop-united/.
The United Way of Greater Nashua is also organizing a community food drive that will take place on Saturday to help replenish food pantries in the area.
This article was originally published in The Union Leader by Kimberly Houghton.