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Meet the Woman Doing Grocery Runs for Elderly Neighbors to Help Reduce Their Coronavirus Risk

"The ability to offer help is one of our greatest gifts," says Becky Hoeffler.

A Durham, North Carolina woman has stepped up to help elderly neighbors stay safe during the coronavirus threat by getting their groceries! Becky Hoeffler, a Duke University employee who's currently working from home due to the virus, was inspired to start her project when she called to check in on her grandfather. "He told me, 'I’m on my way to the grocery store' and I was just kind of concerned because he’s 91 and I thought, 'is there a reason you have to go to the grocery store?... So that’s what made me think, maybe I can go grocery shopping for others since I do live in a community that has several senior citizen neighbors." Since then, Hoeffler has helped several of her at-risk neighbors avoid crowded stores by getting their groceries on her lunch break. "I think utilizing people power is one of the best ways that we can combat the virus," she says. As Hoeffler told A Mighty Girl, "The ability to offer help is one of our greatest gifts."

The coronavirus is especially risky for the elderly and people of all ages with underlying health issues that can weaken their immune systems. With people at high risk being encouraged to stay at home, such as the request by California Governor Gavin Newsom yesterday that everyone over the age of 65 in the state stay at home, many elderly and at-risk people will be isolated in their homes, potentially for several weeks. Last week, a woman in Bend, Oregon shared a story online about an encounter that illustrates the stress and hardship that many of the people most at risk are experiencing.

Rebeccea Mehra wrote on Twitter that she was walking through a grocery store parking lot when an elderly woman called to her from her car. She recounts that the woman was nearly in tears as she explained to her through a crack in her window that she and her husband were in their 80s and afraid to go into the store due to the virus. The woman said that they had been sitting in the car for 45 minutes, hoping to ask someone for assistance. Happy to help out, Mehra took a $100 bill and a hand-written grocery list from the grateful couple, brought their groceries, and put them and the change in their trunk. When she shared her experience online, she reflected, "I know it’s a time of hysteria and nerves, but offer to help anyone you can. Not everyone has people to turn to."

If you'd like to make a similar offer to at-risk people in your community, there are a few tips to keep in mind. Make sure that you wash your hands before picking up and delivering the food; Hoeffler also wears gloves while collecting food at the store as an added precaution. It's also best to leave grocery deliveries outside the door, rather than going into someone's home. And if you chat with the person while making the delivery, do so outside and observe social distancing by leaving at least six feet between you and the person you're helping. If possible, collect grocery lists by phone, text, email, or online, rather than in person, to minimize contact, and take electronic funds transfers rather than collecting cash. If you don't know which of your neighbors might need help, you can reach out in different ways; Hoeffler, for example, posted flyers in her neighborhood since not everyone is digitally connected and is using a local Facebook group to let more people know about her offer of shopping assistance. People offering help elsewhere are also using sites such NextDoor and neighborhood email lists.

"Am I excited that I’m probably going to get a sweet loaf of banana bread from my neighbor, Patti, because of this, yes," joked Hoeffler during an interview with CBS17. "[But] I think being able to help people and being able to help your neighbor is one of the most American things that you can do."

Books About Helping Neighbors, Kindness, and Community Service

Plant a Kiss

Plant a Kiss

Written by: Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrated by: Peter H. Reynolds
Recommended Age: 3 - 8

Beloved author Amy Krouse Rosenthal takes the phrase “to plant a kiss” and makes it literal when the Little Miss of this book plants a real kiss in the ground. After tending it carefully — lots of sunshine and water — a glittering sprout grows. Now Little Miss is going to share the kiss she planted with the whole wide world! This beautiful conceptual book about kindness, generosity, and love is a reminder that simple gestures can grow far beyond the giver — and that anyone can be the one to start something that leads to “eternal bliss.”

Up The Mountain Path

Up The Mountain Path

Written by: Marianne Dubuc
Illustrated by: Marianne Dubuc
Recommended Age: 4 - 8

Every Sunday, Mrs. Badger walks the mountain path to the top of Sugarloaf Peak. Along the way, she provides helping hands to those in need, and acts as a caretaker for the natural beauty of the trail. One day, she notices a very little kitten named Lulu following her. Lulu wishes she could climb to the top too... but maybe she's too small. Mrs. Badger encourages her, and it's not long before she has a regular companion on her weekly walk. And when Mrs. Badger is too frail to go, Lulu takes up the walking stick. This sweet story celebrating the love of the outdoors and the richness of intergenerational friendship is profound and quietly powerful.

A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love

A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love

Written by: Michelle Edwards
Illustrated by: G. Brian Karas
Recommended Age: 4 - 8

Mrs. Goldman and Sophia make a great team: Mrs. Goldman knits hats for everyone in the neighborhood, and Sophie helps out by making the pom-poms. But then Sophia realizes that winter is here — and Mrs. Goldman doesn't have a hat herself! No matter how hard Sophia tries to knit a hat for her friend, she ends up with lumpy, uneven stitches and a hat full of holes. Fortunately, Sophia finds a creative solution so she can still return Mrs. Goldman's many kindnesses with one of her own. Kids will smile as Sophia dedicates herself to finding a way thank you to her beloved friend.

Boxes for Katje

Boxes for Katje

Written by: Candace Fleming
Illustrated by: Stacey Dressen-McQueen
Recommended Age: 4 - 8

Katje's Dutch town has been ravaged by World War II, and her family is struggling to get by with almost nothing. Then, one day, a box arrives from America: a little girl named Rosie has sent necessities like soap and socks, and even chocolate for a treat! Katje is so thrilled that she sends a letter of thanks, and soon both girls are sending exchanges full of surprises. What started as an act of generosity becomes an ongoing relationship that changes the lives of both girls — and the people in both their towns — for the better. Candace Fleming based this story on her mother's childhood, and the story of how simple acts of generosity can last a lifetime is sure to get kids thinking about what their own acts of kindness can do.

The Girl and The Bicycle

The Girl and The Bicycle

Written by: Mark Pett
Illustrated by: Mark Pett
Recommended Age: 4 - 8

In a shop window, a girl spots the bike of her dreams, but it costs far more than she has saved. Her quest to find ways to earn money leads to a friendly neighbor, who offers her work in the garden. Together, the woman and the girl work side by side until she finally has saved enough — but when she returns to the shop, the bike is gone. Fortunately, after she uses her savings to do a good deed for her brother, the girl discovers that she’s not the only generous person on her street! This sweet wordless story is a celebration of hard work, cross-generational friendships, and the joy that comes from generosity.

I Know a Lady

I Know a Lady

Written by: Charlotte Zolotow
Illustrated by: James Stevenson
Recommended Age: 4 - 8

In Sally's neighborhood, there is an old lady who has a knack for making everyone feel special. She says hello when she meets you walking your dog; she admires your costumes at Halloween; and at Christmas she invites you in to see her beautiful Christmas tree (and maybe have a Christmas treat!) And every season, she has a gift to give: a flower from her carefully tended garden. This beautiful tale of an intergenerational friendship celebrates the strong relationships that kindness helps to grow.

Maddi's Fridge

Maddi's Fridge

Written by: Lois Brandt
Illustrated by: Vin Vogel
Recommended Age: 4 - 9

Best friends Sofia and Maddi live in the same neighborhood and attend the same school, but when Sofia looks for a snack in Maddi's fridge one day, she is shocked to discover that her friend Maddi spends many of her days hungry. Maddi makes Sofia promise not to tell, but it's hard for Sofia to enjoy all the good food on her own family's table when she knows Maddi's family has none. It turns out, sometimes the kindest thing to do is to break a promise. This book about food insecurity provides a model for empathetic and compassionate friendship with a person in need.

Birdsong

Birdsong

Written by: Julie Flett
Illustrated by: Julie Flett
Recommended Age: 5 - 9

Katherena and her mother have moved to a new home, and Katherena is struggling; she doesn't even feel like drawing. Then, she meets Agnes, an elderly neighbor who works with clay, encouraging Katherena to start creating again. The intergenerational pair bond quickly, with Katherena teaching Agnes Cree-Métis words, while Agnes teaches her about gardening. But when winter comes, Agnes starts to weaken, and in the spring she's not able to go outside. Fortunately, Katherena has a gift for her that will allow Agnes to enjoy the spring anyway. Sparse but luminous artwork and a celebration of art and nature make this an affecting treasure of a book, perfect for sharing between generations.

How To Make A Better World

For Every Kid Who Wants to Make a Difference

How To Make A Better World

For Every Kid Who Wants to Make a Difference

Written by: Keilly Swift
Recommended Age: 7 - 10

It's easier than you think to change the world! This fun and empowering guide teaches kids how they can take their passion for justice and put it into practice. The four chapters move from the individual, learning to practice self-kindness, to the community, to all of humanity, and to the planet we live on. Each chapter provides practical advice, examples of real kids who started service projects, and ideas for things you can do, from being a good friend to identifying fake news to going on a protest march. It's sure to inspire kids everywhere to take their first steps into activism!

Start Now! You Can Make a Difference

Start Now! You Can Make a Difference

Written by: Chelsea Clinton
Recommended Age: 7 - 11

Activism can sometimes seem overwhelming — but there are problems large and small that kids can tackle every day! In this book, Chelsea Clinton addresses five key concepts — health, hunger, climate change, endangered species, and bullying — and shows kids how to start solving them, either individually, locally, or globally. Each chapter ends with a "Start Now!" bullet list, providing suggestions for young would-be activists to take first steps towards big changes. Kids will particularly love the photographs of real kids, just like them, who have started leading the way for people around them.

Stay

Stay

Written by: Bobbie Pyron
Recommended Age: 9 - 13

Piper's life is turned upside down when her family moves into a shelter in a whole new city. She misses her house, her friends, and her privacy — and she hates being labeled the homeless girl at her new school. But the shelter also brings new friendships with other girls in the shelter's Firefly Girls troop and with a sweet street dog owned by an elderly homeless woman named Jewel, who refuses to move into the shelter because she can't bring her beloved Baby. After Jewel is hospitalized and Baby is sent to an animal shelter, Piper decides to rally her new Firefly friends and figure out a way to make sure that Jewel and Baby can stay together and move off the streets for good. Told in alternating perspectives, this heartfelt story explores the many faces of homelessness while speaking to the importance of hope, the power of story, and the true meaning of home.

Walking with Miss Millie

Walking with Miss Millie

Written by: Tamara Bundy
Recommended Age: 10 - 13

Alice hates her new home in Rainbow, Georgia, in the mid-1960s: it's too hot, too dry, and just plain doesn't feel like home. She's resentful when she's put in charge of walking her neighbor, Miss Millie's, dog, and frustrated when the dog won't walk without Miss Millie. But that means all three walk together, and soon, a surprise friendship begins to emerge — and Alice starts to learn about her new town and about the painful effects segregation has had on Miss Millie's family. And with Miss Millie, Alice is finally able to open up as well. This gentle depiction of a deep intergenerational friendship is tender and sweet.

UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World

UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World

Written by: Dr. Michele Borba

Studies show that teens are 40% less empathetic today than they were thirty years ago – a trend that hurts both kids and society as a whole. In fact, self-focused behavior can hurt academic performance, lead to increases in bullying behavior, and reduce kids’ resilience when things go wrong. This thoughtful parenting book explores nine research-based habits to build kids’ empathy. From identifying and controlling their emotions to thinking about "us" not "them", these strategies can be used daily to encourage kids to see the world from the perspectives of other people around them, reducing rudeness and bullying and setting them up for a lifetime of positive relationships.

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