Volunteers start grocery aid program for the elderly

Stay at Home SD’s assembly line is ready and prepped to fill orders.

On Monday afternoon, March 16, resident James Hays helped an elderly gentleman in a 25-person-long line outside of Trader Joe’s get the bananas he needed.

By Tuesday night, March 17, Hays had launched Stay Home SD, an all-volunteer, unstructured grassroots effort that purchases and delivers living essentials to those in the community who — due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic — are unable to shop for themselves.

“Seniors have been consistently told to avoid crowds, now this man had to go into a crowd (at Trader Joe’s),” Hays noted to PB Monthly. “The system is broken.”

Prompted by the interaction, Hays, who owns the tech company Bradford Kent Integrated Solutions and is an active member of PB’s San Diego Volleyball Crew, said he reached out to others in the volleyball community on social media groups, asking if anyone would be willing to help him provide for residents in similar situations.

Overnight, Stay Home SD was up and running.

“Well, there’s a lot of people with nothing to do right now,” Hays remarked with a laugh.

How it works

Currently, there are just under 100 people donating their time to the cause. They have a webpage designer, drivers, shoppers, tech helpers and more.

“I feel like we’ve met a great bunch of people who have good hearts and who want to help out,” said executive director Sydney Prochnow, who’s been transitioning into her role while Hays switches to an advisory position.

The volunteer shoppers head to the grocery stores early in the morning to “beat all the hoarders.” Everyone typically works a 4-5 hour shift, said Hays, and people swap out throughout the day. Deliveries are made from 10 a.m. until dark, while mornings and evenings are reserved for preparing for the next day.

The volunteers purchase food and other necessities such as handsanitizer, soap, disinfectant wipes and packages of Depends.

Hays said the volunteers are occasionally confronted by other shoppers, who at first believe they are unnecessarily hoarding. Some store managers will allow the volunteers to continue, while others are not so lenient.

“We feel like we’re fighting for our elderly, health-compromised residents and it’s become inspirational for all of us, so we don’t mind a little confrontation,” Hays said.

After the shopping is finished, volunteers bring the groceries back to Firehouse American Eatery & Lounge, 722 Grand Ave., from whose top floor they are currently operating from. (This is their fourth operations location due to expansion.)

Hays said all it took was a brief 10-minute conversation with the owner of Firehouse, Matt Spencer, before he jumped on board, eager to help and offer the space. “Now, he’s delivering groceries himself,” Hays pointed out.

Need to get help?

To receive groceries and living essentials, the elderly and at-risk residents are encouraged to call Stay Home SD at (619) 800-3252 or fill out the form at (Note: The form says to choose five items, but if someone has greater needs than that, volunteers will do what they can to provide.)

The entire service and products are all free of cost to the recipients, thanks to thousands of dollars donated on Stay Home SD’s GoFundMe page.

As of March 24, $22,784 has been raised to buy the groceries and toiletries that have been requested — a number that shocked even Hays, who reported much of the money is coming from the relatives of the people they’re helping. According to him, there are 5-6 donations made per hour.

With the approximate daily cost to run the operations between $2,500 to $3,500, more donations are needed to keep up with the high demand. Any money left over after seniors can safely re-enter society will be distributed among local non-profit organizations that benefit the senior community.

A couple of Stay Home SD’s drivers pack their load of deliveries for the day.

Additionally, Stay Home SD now has distribution channels with Costco and Sysco, bread donations from local business Olive Cafe & Bakery, and produce donated by the Backyard Kitchen & Tap.

Within the volunteer group of volleyball players and UC San Diego and San Diego State University students, are a handful of nurses, who are offering advice from a distance regarding proper procedure and hygienic protocol.

The drivers keep as clean as possible. They wear gloves and masks, and have no interaction with those they deliver to.

Each delivery includes a sanitation kit that explains how to best sanitize the groceries and products. Recipients get a phone call when the drivers are 10 minutes away, and upon arrival the drivers ring the doorbell, put the groceries on the doorstep and leave immediately.

“Sometimes these seniors are so lonely and happy to see us that they want to interact and they’re yelling their thanks as our people are walking away,” Hays observed.

A boost to morale

Stay Home SD volunteer Joshua Daguman, who typically answers the hotline calls, is especially attentive to the emotional needs of the senior citizens.

“This morning alone, I heard a lady (94 years old) say, ‘It feels so good to laugh again,’ ” Hays said of a phone call he overheard Daguman taking.

“These folks are sitting at home watching the news, watching the world fall apart, and they’re being told they can’t leave their house and all of a sudden, some young, happy, healthy volleyball player comes up and drops off some food for them. I didn’t realize what this meant to them.”

Daguman noted the spirit of giving has spread to other shoppers during the volunteers’ outings. After hearing what the group is up to, it’s not uncommon for someone to donate cash on the spot.

“Anybody who hears about Stay Home SD, or sees us, wants to help out, and I think that’s the greatest thing ever,” Daguman declared.

After just four to five days into the program, both the number of volunteers and people in need quadrupled. By the end of the program’s fifth day, volunteers had made about 100 deliveries.

While acknowledging there’s still some health risk with sending an individual to an elderly person’s front door, Hays maintains: “It’s much less of a risk than them going into a crowd of people in a grocery store.”

Many times, those who are being helped try to pay for their groceries and toiletries. Upon finding out that the service and products are already paid for, people often donate spontaneously.

“They pay-it-forward in a way, but pay-it-forward like 10 times the amount,” Daguman said, adding the free service is a big help to those who are suffering financially. “That’s the biggest thing, I think, giving people hope.”

A temporary fix

Though prompted to jump into action, Hays explained that he doesn’t intend for Stay Home SD to be a long-term operation.

“This is just a temporary measure for an urgent situation,” he clarified, expressing confidence the government will be able to supply for the community’s needs.

But people need help right now, and that’s the issue Hays is seeking to address.

His vision, he said, is to raise $100,000 in private funding for Stay Home SD to survive long enough to get government grants.

“If we do all this and there’s one person who ends up not getting sick because they stayed home, then it’s all worth it,” he asserted.

• Want to help? To support Stay Home SD and older, at-risk members of the community, visit to volunteer your time, make a donation or partner with the group.