Northstar Neighbor program connects volunteers with senior citizens during pandemic

Northstar Neighbors helps connect volunteers with senior citizens who need help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once a week, Nick Ryan stops by Marlene Simonson’s house to drop off groceries at her front door. Even though they live about a mile apart, the two had never met before the COVID-19 pandemic.

They were matched by an organization called Northstar Neighbor, which pairs volunteers with seniors who could use some help during the stay-at-home order. The nonprofit asks volunteers to call their senior every couple of days to check in on them and pick up groceries and prescriptions for them if needed.

“I makes me feel good to be a part of something that is a reaction to the crisis that we are going through that is helping people through a very basic grassroots level,” said Ryan.

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson and a few friends helped create the program as a way to organize the large numbers of volunteers.

Macular degeneration left Simonson with poor eyesight and unable to drive or order groceries on a computer.

“I just get cold shivers because it feels like it was an answer to my prayers,” said Simonson. “I just couldn’t believe after I sought out all kinds of questions to myself, how am I going to get the groceries? How am I going to do it? So when I heard about this, I said, oh, I hope it will work for me.”

Ryan says he hopes to continue his weekly visits with the 87-year-old after the pandemic is over because he’s done more than just been a good neighbor. He’s made a friend.

“The silver lining to the whole situation is getting to help people that is a direct benefit to both parties,” Ryan said. “We get a chance to meet each other and get to know each other when we normally wouldn’t have been able to.”