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This is part of a series of articles focused on the area nonprofit community and the impact on our region.

During the pandemic, Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging’s volunteer program has showcased just how caring, giving and committed Vermont volunteers are. The demand for help from isolated older Vermonters rose quickly starting in March of 2020. At that time, SVCOA began its volunteer grocery shopping program, a noncontact program that allows at-risk seniors to stay safely home while volunteers do their shopping for them. From its inception in March a year ago until today, there have been 90 grocery volunteers serving twice that many older Vermonters.

Two of our grocery volunteers are a married couple with two small children. They moved here from out of state about seven months before COVID-19 shut down the state of Vermont. They started volunteering in the grocery program in April 2020, seeing it as a way to keep older Vermonters safe as well as a chance for themselves to become less isolated and more connected to the Rutland community.

While Dad has a full-time position outside the home, Mom has a full-time position with her two children and their pre-school and kindergarten education at home because of the pandemic. In addition to their work and family responsibilities, this couple has averaged nine hours per month in volunteer shopping for their clients.

This couple’s commitment to their clients is already a success story, but so is their analysis of how the program has progressed during their year of volunteering. They confirmed what we also realized: The grocery shopping volunteer program, while started as a response to the pandemic, has been and will continue to be a need for older Vermonters who are unable to shop for themselves. As they said, “Some people for whom we have shopped have been vaccinated and feel comfortable shopping for themselves. But this need has existed for a while and the program needs to continue.” Also, they observed that during this past year, stores have made it easier to order online for pick-up, but it is the younger, more tech-savvy generations that benefit from those programs. For some older Vermonters, there just isn’t the same access to computers or knowledge of how to shop online. “The system has changed, but the need hasn’t,” they stated.

The need for volunteers will not pass with the passing of pandemic restrictions. The grocery program is an example of a key service that will continue in the future as it has proven to be vital to older Vermonters in many circumstances, whether during a pandemic or not. As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, we anticipate the reopening of other supportive SVCOA volunteer programs such as friendly visiting, money management, home modification work, indoor chores, office help, meal site coordination, tai chi instruction and the addition of an initiative to provide computer assistance to older Vermonters.

Call 802-786-5990 to volunteer or learn more about programs SVCOA provides to meet the growing and changing needs of aging Vermonters.

Ellen Green, communications and volunteer coordinator, Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging prepared this column for the Rutland Herald.

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