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Saturday, July 11, 2020

Los Angeles Sisters Start Pandemic Grocery Assistance Program

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With the coronavirus pandemic leaving elderly people stranded at home without an easy way to access groceries, stepsisters Kayla Newman, 19, and Leeat Hatzav, 20, felt they had to do something. “We thought, ‘Why not get some young, healthy people and do the deliveries?’ ” Newman told the Journal.

The two created Shopping Helpers LA, a grocery shopping assistance program pairing volunteers who are strong and healthy and have access to a car with seniors and those who are immunocompromised.

They launched the program in mid-March around the time Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a “Safer at Home” order in an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

After receiving a positive response from their social circle, the siblings created a flyer, which they circulated among rabbis in the community. Fifteen calls a day turned into hundreds of calls, with the duo doing their best to keep up with the high demand.

Leeat Hatzav; Photo courtesy of Shopping Helpers LA

“As we’re talking, my sister has taken five calls,” Newman said. “It’s a bit overwhelming.”

Working out of their Pico-Robertson home, Newman and Hatzav use WhatsApp groups to pair volunteers with grocery orders placed on their website, myshla.com. Shopping Helpers LA serves several areas in the city, including Pico-Robertson, La Brea and the San Fernando Valley.

Both Jewish and non-Jewish people can request assistance. Shoppers complete a form on the website specifying the items they are looking for and the stores where they’d like the volunteer to shop. Kosher restaurants, including Western Kosher and Glatt Mart, are among the options.

“We thought, ‘Why not get some young, healthy people and do the deliveries?’ ” — Kayla Newman

When the coronavirus broke out, Newman was enrolled in an online college program, which she has since put on hold to focus on this effort. Hatzav made aliyah a year ago but returned home to be with her family during the pandemic. “It’s really [been] bonding for both of us,” Newman said of the sisters’ initiative.

Newman, who also spent a year studying in the post-high school seminary Baer Miriam in Jerusalem, said that while they started the program with the intention of solely helping the elderly, several different groups have requested assistance, including pregnant women, people with COVID-19 and those who live with their elderly parents and do not want to bring anybody into their home.

To date, Newman said around 220 people have volunteered to participate in the initiative.

“It really is like a 24-7 job,” she said. “I’ve gotten texts in the middle of the night.”

And, she added, demand is increasing. “Lately, we are looking for more volunteers,” she said, “because we’re getting a crazy number of orders, especially with Pesach coming.”

To request assistance from or volunteer with Shopping Helpers LA, visit myshla.com, call (323) 628-7071 or email [email protected]

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