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At the start of the COVID-19 shutdown, Tanner Kenin heard that his grandparents could soon run out of food.
“My grandparents, who live in a suburb of Des Moines, were having issues getting groceries,” the 17-year-old says. “They didn’t want to leave their house during this time, and the grocery store delivery services were completely booked or they had hefty delivery fees.”
Realizing these grocery issues could continue for a while, he started a project called T’s Angel Hands.
Kenin set up a website and recruited other teens to volunteer delivering grocery contactlessly to the elderly, those with underlying conditions and those who are pregnant in Polk County, Iowa.
He now has a volunteer crew of 15 high school students from five different schools. Some of the volunteer drivers are Kenin’s classmates but others are teens who heard about the project and wanted to help.
As word of their service spread to people who need it via local media, they’ve ramped up to making around 35–45 deliveries per week.
Recipients can place a grocery pick-up order and have the driver pick it up for them and deliver to a predetermined spot — often their porch — for free. They can also give the driver a grocery list and pay for those groceries, with free delivery, or the driver can pick up and deliver from a local food pantry.
Feeding America reports that even before the pandemic, seven per cent of American seniors were food insecure, and the problem has likely intensified in recent months, not just for seniors but also for children and others.
Kenin estimates about a third of their deliveries are from food pantries.
As COVID-19 continues to cause disruptions, some grateful recipients have used the service five or six times. Not all the recipients are comfortable online, so they can also call to request a delivery.
“One thing that was pretty neat is that we got a phone call from someone who is blind and partially deaf,” Kenin says. “She usually has a worker who comes with her and grocery shops for her but her worker stopped showing up.”
Almost completely out of food and with no family to help, the woman heard about T’s Angel Hands on the local news and contacted them for a delivery.
“(It) was neat knowing we could impact someone’s life like that,” Kenin adds.
Another grocery recipient is an 83-year-old military veteran.
Buzz about T’s Angel Hands has spread beyond Iowa and Polk County. In fact, Kenin says he heard from a teen in Oregon who hopes to start a branch out there.
As Kenin enters his senior year of high school, where he’s involved in student council, he hopes to attend a top-tier college after high school graduation and eventually attend law school.
If access to groceries is still an issue when he leaves for college, Kenin plans to pass the torch to some of T’s Angel’s Hands younger volunteers.
“I’m hoping to keep this going for as long as necessary,” he says.