Simone Policano is a professional actor and producer who lives and resides in The Big Apple, but her current volunteer job may be the 25-year-old’s most important role yet.
“I was walking home in March, and passed a grocery store. I saw elderly folks doing their own shopping. We weren’t in full lockdown yet, but the situation wasn’t great. I wanted to go over to these strangers and say, ‘I promise I won’t take your cash and I can help do your shopping!’ I was thinking to myself, this doesn’t seem safe. I’m young and healthy, so how can I help (seniors) to stay home?”
With one short post on Facebook, Simone set in motion what has become a community-based response to the COVID-19 pandemic, making over 4,500 food deliveries to seniors sheltering at home since mid-March. As a co-founder of Invisible Hands, Simone is volunteering alongside two fellow co-founders, including family friend Liam Elkind. According to 20-year-old Liam, a rising senior at Yale University currently living in New York City, Invisible Hands is delivering more than just food to seniors.
“We’re talking about social distancing as a result of the pandemic, but that’s wrong. We’re physically distancing. We can still socially engage during this era of social distancing. The people whom I’ve delivered food to have become my friends. One woman I delivered to tried to set me up with her granddaughter on a date (laughs). Another, Carol, invited me in for cookies and treats when I made her delivery. I said, ‘Carole I can’t come into your apartment, that’s opposite of the whole point!’”
Each delivery takes about three volunteers, as a call center receives the incoming request from clients in New York City and parts of New Jersey, another volunteer then matches the “shopping” volunteer with the client, and then the “runner” volunteer is dispatched to the store. Simone says the response to their service has been overwhelming, the organization has heard from people around the world, with volunteers from as far away as California and Florida joining the cause.
By matching volunteers up with seniors referred to Invisible Hands through word of mouth and community partners, volunteers are selected based upon proximity to the client and then the two discuss the client’s food requests. Often connecting volunteers with clients who live in the same neighborhood, Invisible Hands is introducing two strangers who may not have otherwise met in a city of more than 8 million residents. Bridging the gap between generations, Invisible Hands has brought communities together during unprecedented times, says New York City resident, 83-year-old Carol Sterling, who received a food delivery from co-founder Liam.
“He came to my door but he didn’t come near me. This was long before the whole social distancing was really something we became accustomed to. He chatted with me for about half an hour. It wasn’t just delivery of food, it was also sort of getting to know me, a social connection in addition to a generous delivery of food. It occurs to me in hindsight that through this unprecedented period which has challenged us in so many ways, it was so gratifying to see a non-profit bringing the community together. This is an example of how kind-hearted and compassionate young volunteers are helping an older generation and those most vulnerable.”
Simone says that by fostering these connections, the volunteers are benefiting just as much as the clients.
“We’ve mobilzed young people to volunteer. It does seem like we’ve found something. The traditional volunteer base of retirees is the population we are encouraging to stay at home. Younger people aren’t normally signing up to be volunteers, but we’ve made it easy for people to be able to help, and mitigate our own feeling of helplessness. I do think that we’ve found an area of need that would be great to continue (to serve), even post COVID-19.”
Liam, who says he looks forward to the day when he is able to have cookies and treats with Carol in person, says he’s been inspired by the generosity shown by the more than 10,000 Invisible Hand volunteers.
“I’d been feeling incredibly inspired by medical workers, public transportation workers who are literally risking their lives to help those in need,” says Liam. “I’ve got some extra time on my frequently washed hands, and so this is what I am doing to help. It has been incredibly inspiring to see everyone pull together at a time when it feels like the world is pulling us all apart. It’s been a profound reminder that when we pull together, we pull through.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Simone Policano & Liam Elkind? Find local volunteer opportunities.