Over the course of 72 hours, 20-year-old Liam Elkind and his friend Simone Policano, managed to collect 1,300 volunteers to deliver groceries and medicine to older New Yorkers and other vulnerable populations. They call themselves “Invisible Hands,” and they are helping bring comfort and supplies—with social distancing, obviously.
“People are scared, and people are lonely,” Elkind said. “We’re all so separated, and one of the things we need is that social cohesiveness. This is one opportunity to get them that social connection they’re looking for.”
For 83-year-old Carol Sterling, Elkind was the highlight of her week. The retired arts administrator has been staying at home, unable to shop for herself during the COVID-19 pandemic. As her two children and family are not near, she’s also missing out on human interaction and learning to use Zoom to keep in touch with loved ones and to take online classes. Sterling found Elkind’s services through their synagogue, and he brought her the food she needed.
“It’s neighbor to neighbor,” Sterling said. “A crisis like this often brings out the very best.”
Elkind, the son of a doctor, has watched his father and other caregivers working tirelessly in crisis.
“I figured, OK, I can go buy some groceries. That I can do,” he said.
Elkind and his fellow volunteers came up with the name Invisible Hands because of their meticulous care while shopping and delivering. Shoppers must not have traveled out of the country for the virus’ 14-day incubation period, have any symptoms of COVID-19, or have come in contact with anybody who has tested positive. They pledge that they have practiced social distancing and other precautions in their own lives. They wear gloves while shopping, wipe down bags, and use self-checkout if possible. Bags are left at the door—but volunteers make time to talk to the folks they are serving—six feet away, of course.
The effort started on Facebook where Policano, also a New Yorker, put out a call for volunteers. Word spread quickly as they built a website and distributed flyers in seven languages. Now, you can place grocery and pharmacy orders on the Invisible Hands website.
“This is one of those times when I remember that New York is such a small town, and people are willing to look out for one another and have each other’s back,” Elkind said, adding that volunteers have offered to extend the service to Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, and London.