Every two weeks I drive down Bloomfield’s Broad Street, turn down a side street, and pick up my grocery shopping buddy – Esther*, a wonderful woman in her 80s. I’ve been picking her up for a year now, and neither one of us has ever missed a shopping trip. I have found that I benefit as much from the trips as she does, and I feel ridiculous as she thanks me because I should be thanking her.
When I contacted the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Network in Bloomfield last year, I figured I’d drive a few senior citizens to medical appointments and maybe do some raking or shoveling once in a while. However, when I got the call from the volunteer coordinator about meeting a woman for regular grocery shopping, I figured that might be better. Why not work combine volunteering with getting my own errands done? And since I’d be carting my almost two-year-old around too, I knew it was something she would like to do as well. Yes, my toddler likes to go grocery shopping. Go figure.
When Esther and I first met, it was a little awkward. She is a proud person, and we both felt like we were on an interview of sorts. Esther didn’t seem comfortable with asking for help, and I might have seemed a little too eager to be helpful. Still, she thought my daughter was adorable, and I wanted to work on my karma – so we became ShopRite grocery buddies thanks to the Bloomfield Division of Human Services.
Over the last year, I have learned an incredible amount about Bloomfield and what it was like in the sixties and seventies. We’ve driven an extra block here and there to drive by a house she grew up in. I have also talked with Esther about frustrations with her benefits (which were just cut by close to 50%), errors in her water bill, solicitors coming to the door, Valpaks not coming to her door, worries about her property taxes going up, finding the flavor of cat food her son’s cats will eat, and figuring out which package of “Manager’s Special” meat is a better deal. Together, we’ve learned which cashiers to steer clear of because they don’t fully get the EBT thing. And together we laugh when neither one of us remembers where I parked the car.
Since I’m shopping for a family of four, I always qualify for the free Holiday Turkey or Ham. And because I’m a vegetarian, Esther always gets the freebies. We trade coupons, her son scours the circular for us as I never do, and he finds deals I would miss. We share an affinity for Star Trek (she loves Captain Kirk!), and we have political discussions about gun laws, gay marriage, and taxes. It’s quite the symbiotic relationship, even though any outsider would think Esther was the only one benefitting from our visits. Knowing her has made me more patient with others at the grocery store, and I’m more helpful and understanding when someone takes time choosing a tomato or coffee creamer. I smile more at ShopRite because I know that (most of the) people appreciate it.
The initial awkwardness between Esther and me has fallen away; we now end every shopping trip with a hug and a “See you in two weeks!” I know that I am lucky to have been paired with her since we hit it off so well, but I can’t help but think that I could have been paired up with many other wonderful people also waiting for assistance.
The Neighbor-to-Neighbor Network is actively looking for volunteers to work with senior citizens, people with disabilities, and other community members. A wide variety of skills can be utilized – Just want to have coffee and talk? Can you do minor home repairs or paint a banister? Can you help fill out tax returns or read the newspaper to someone? Are you willing to do gardening or snow shoveling? Does delivering groceries sound appetizing? It’s all possible.
Contact Lori Berkowitz at 973 680 4017 x4032 or at lberkowitz [at] bloomfieldtwpnj [dot] com.
* I’ve changed Esther’s name.