Mahtomedi ‘Angels’ help low-income seniors through pandemic

13December 2020

Whenever Sheila Stuart gets a message on her phone that a donor is on the way she dons a light jacket, gloves and a mask and makes her way down from the second floor of her apartment building to the lobby.

Since March, residents around the Mahtomedi area have been dropping off food and supplies for seniors at her low-income building, East Shore Place.

Fostered by a Nextdoor group called the White Bear Lake Mahtomedi Angels, which now has over 100 members, they drop off bags of groceries, toilet paper, homemade bread and handwritten notes to seniors who are often unable to afford or navigate grocery shopping in a pandemic.

“They are my angels,” said Ardith Pearl, a 71-year-old widow who lives in East Shore Place and helps Stuart collect and lay out the donations.

MEETING A NEED

The drop-off times are unpredictable. Sometimes Stuart receives two or three texts a day. Other times she won’t get a message for a whole week.

“The hardest part is keeping people away from the groceries,” she said, as residents who spot the deliveries in the parking lot often flock to the communal table where she wipes down the groceries.

When the donations started in March, Pearl and Stuart would walk door-to-door, taking inventory of grocery lists for the 59 other residents in their building. Once posted on Nextdoor, neighbors in the area could choose who they wanted to shop for.

Now donors typically drop off food and supplies meant for a communal table. Donations vary from fresh fruits and vegetables or meat and cheeses to bananas, milk, butter, eggs and cookies. A couple weeks ago they received 112 full chicken pot pies.

“That means to me that we have a lot of caring people in our community. A lot of people who are concerned and caring about somebody not going hungry,” Pearl said.

ACCESSIBILITY

Some stores are closing earlier during the pandemic than they used to, and residents are fearful of contracting the virus, Pearl said. Others use walkers, canes or wheelchairs, and with winter coming have trouble navigating buses or other transportation.

Metro Mobility also costs money, and sometimes those who use it have to wait hours for the bus, even if they just wanted to pick up a few things at the store, she said. If the bus comes early, it’s also easy to miss it.

White Bear Lake resident Rita Larson was one of the first to donate food. Although she didn’t know anyone who lived in the building, she said not being able to visit her mother who recently moved into memory care made her want to help other seniors in her community.

After seeing one resident ask for just half a loaf of bread and a can of soup, Larson said it broke her heart to think about her mother’s generation not having enough food to eat. Making large grocery runs once a month, Larson said it feels wonderful to give back and see others do the same.

Rita Larson pushes a shopping cart of food into the East Shore Place Apartments. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

“The pandemic has gone on so long, but the need is still there,” Larson said. “We’ve got to take care of each other.”

Many of the other donors, most of whom have not met the recipients of the food, said donating reminds them of their parents and it’s comforting to know that people in their community now are more likely to have their basic needs met.

COMBATING LONELINESS

Loneliness is common for people living in nursing homes, and a pandemic has made people feel even more isolated, said Julie Gruendemann of Stillwater. Gruendemann said donating food lets the seniors know that they’re not forgotten.

“I’m just humbled by being called (an ‘Angel’) because I feel like I’m not really doing that much,” she said. “This is just a small little thing that I’m doing. I just wish other people might think about somebody else.”

For Judith Erickson, 78, the Angels’ donations have “really raised everyone’s spirits.”

After an adjustment period of moving out of her home and into the apartment, Erickson said she never expected to be in a situation where she needed to ask for help.

“This is an example of community helping community. It’s just been amazing to me,” she said. “It’s more important than ever as you get older to feel connected.”

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