Ryan Jespersen loads groceries for delivery late last month. The medical school student and member of St. Stephen the Martyr Parish in Omaha helped organize a grocery delivery service for elderly people isolated at home. COURTESY PHOTO


Med student, friends start service to deliver groceries to isolated seniors

Rose Marie Cloud doesn’t have a car, no longer drives, and like many seniors, would like to avoid exposure to the coronavirus.

Going to a grocery store can be difficult and hazardous for people like Cloud, 79.

So when she saw a television news story about an organization that was delivering groceries to seniors, she called the group the next morning.

The person on the other end of the line, a medical student named Ryan Jespersen, became a lifesaver, blessing and friend.

Jespersen – who’s finished his second year at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and is a member of St. Stephen the Martyr Parish in Omaha – together with his girlfriend, Sunny Massa of Blair, and other friends started the organization to deliver groceries to the elderly and keep them safe from the coronavirus.

It’s called Support Your NEighbor Covid-19, which emphasizes the NE, or Nebraska, part of “neighbor.”

Cloud has had food, toilet tissue, disinfectant spray, a toothbrush, toothpaste and more dropped off at the door of her Omaha home.

She’s grateful, she said by phone, and has been spreading the word to other seniors. “It’s a God-sent organization,” she said. “I know God is working with them.”

Many medical students, like Jespersen, have been unable to serve in hospitals during the COVID-19 outbreak, so the grocery delivery system has been another way to help.

Support Your NEighbor has about 25 volunteers. They teach some seniors how to order groceries online, provide free delivery for others who can buy their own groceries, and deliver donated items to still others who can’t afford them.

The UNMC students also hold twice-a-month food drives.

Those services are intended to help keep people at home, keep hospital numbers down and save lives, Jespersen said. Volunteers also try to help the elderly feel less isolated with regular phone calls.

Support Your NEighbor has been able to provide ongoing services for about 70 people, Jespersen said.

Marty Smith, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Omaha, also is grateful for the group’s efforts. St. Vincent de Paul has partnered with Support Your NEighbor by passing along food pantry donations that can then be delivered to people in need.

“There are a lot of people who just can’t get to the pantry,” Smith said.

The stay-at-home elderly not only receive food pantry staples, but can ask for more particular items, too, such as cranberry juice, which Cloud requested.

Support Your NEighbor’s food delivery and its connections with seniors are things St. Vincent de Paul and its volunteers plan to continue after Jespersen and other med students go back to school, he said. St. Vincent de Paul would like to expand those services to include single mothers with small children who also might have trouble getting to a food pantry, Smith said.

Service has been an important part of his faith, said Jespersen, who has been a big brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands and has volunteered at a hospital pediatric unit. His desire to care for people is the reason he wanted to become a physician, possibly an oncologist, he said.

Jespersen, a 2013 graduate of V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School and a 2017 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said he’d like to see Support Your NEighbor continue to grow and be able to serve more people during the pandemic.

Cloud – a member of King Solomon Baptist Church in Omaha who’s known to many by her nickname, Baby Girl – said she would like to do her part by continuing to refer people to Support Your NEighbor and, if she can get the supplies, by making refrigerator magnets for seniors that would include contact information for the organization.

The group “is truly a blessing to society, and I hope it grows,” she said.

Interested volunteers, people in need or those who would like to donate food, other items or money can contact Support Your NEighbor at its website, www.supportyourNEighborCOVID19.org, by email at syncovid19@gmail.com or by phone at 402-522-6394.

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