Look for the Helpers: UA Student’s Shopping for Elderly Service Expands to Tuscaloosa (and Beyond)

Tuscaloosa coordinators of Leave It To Us are Lauren Shilling, left, and Abbie Ray, top right. Ibukun Afon, bottom right, is the Birmingham coordinator. Tuscaloosa coordinators of Leave It To Us are Lauren Shilling, left, and Abbie Ray, top right. Ibukun Afon, bottom right, is the Birmingham coordinator. University of Alabama

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold, University of Alabama junior Michael Arundel was at home on spring break in Chicago. That’s where the 20-year-old got the idea for Leave It To Us, a non-profit organization that helps shop for senior citizens – who are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, and thus not always able to brave the stores for food.

Leave It To Us took off quickly, and Arundel put together an initial group of volunteers to help shop for the senior citizens – by picking up their grocery or pharmacy order.

Now, that much-needed free grocery service is getting off the ground in Tuscaloosa, thanks to the efforts of UA senior Lauren Shilling and UA sophomore Abbie Ray. They’re the coordinators for Leave It To Us locally. 

Shilling, a 22-year-old from Los Angeles double majoring in advertising and communication studies, said she saw a story about Arundel on Instagram and reached out to him to see how she could replicate it in Tuscaloosa. 

“I left for spring break, but came back here, and I am now quarantined in Tuscaloosa,” she said. “I think this could be great for Tuscaloosa because now that we’re taking classes online there’s a lot of students out of work with a lot of free time. While we’re quarantining and trying to finish out the semester, we can help others.”

The Tuscaloosa branch started March 31 and already has 25 volunteers. They are prepared for seniors seeking aid with their grocery shopping or pharmaceutical pickups, Shilling said.

And Leave It To Us has also expanded to Birmingham, thanks to recent UA nursing graduate Ibukun Afon, who works at UAB Hospital. Afon says he’s passionate about helping people during this crisis.

“Considering that I have an elderly grandparent myself who I cannot see due to risk of exposure, I figured I’d do what I can in Birmingham to help those in need,” he said. “As a nurse, helping others in need is something that we’re constantly doing, and it’s a natural fit to me to want to serve the community in whatever capacity I can when I’m not at the bedside. It’s a God-given purpose.”

Those interested in volunteering and seniors in need can contact Shilling and Ray via the organization’s website, covidseniorshoppers.com/tuscaloosa_chapter.html. 

Other chapters of Leave it To Us are unfolding throughout the country, from Queens, NY to Los Angeles, to Baton Rouge, LA.  

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