Lending a hand: students organize ‘Teens Helping Seniors’ during pandemic

Teens Helping Seniors founders Matthew Casertano and Dhruv Pai shop for groceries before delivering them to senior citizens.

Photo Courtesy of Matthew Casertano

Teens Helping Seniors founders Matthew Casertano and Dhruv Pai shop for groceries before delivering them to senior citizens.

By Nil Özdemir

 When schools shut down, many students prepared for a relaxing two weeks off, free from the stress of homework and tests. Others quickly realized that the break was an opportunity to help their community. During their final daily carpools to school, Montgomery Blair sophomores Dhruv Pai and Matthew Casertano began discussing an idea for a non-profit run completely by teenagers. Their idea soon became Teens Helping Seniors: a charity aimed at helping senior citizens safely receive groceries during the pandemic.

Casertano and Pai wanted to aid senior citizens, who are at a higher risk of suffering from complications of COVID-19. THS allows senior citizens to place orders for groceries and medicine. Student volunteers then pick up the requested items, wipe down the customer’s orders with disinfectant and deliver the orders free of charge. Senior citizens can thus avoid the various health risks of shopping, including coming in contact with other shoppers who may have contracted the virus.

Casertano and Pai had already started shopping for their grandparents to keep them as safe as possible. They soon started to consider the other senior citizens in their community.

“Our grandparents have us to do shopping for them,” Pai said. “But what about the seniors who don’t have grandchildren nearby?”

THS started with a volunteer base of just a few students who would deliver groceries to seniors once a month. Now, Pai and Casertano’s Maryland-based organization has over 300 volunteers and 14 chapters across the U.S. and Canada.

When they first formed THS, Pai and Casertano did not expect to branch out internationally, Pai said.

“We weren’t thinking of expanding to other states, let alone Canada,” he said. “We’ve seen people that we’re separated from by hundreds of miles find out about something we’re doing in our community and want to do it in their own.”

Casertano and Pai initially recruited teenage volunteers through social media posts, which resulted in a barrage of emails from local students eager to help. The volunteer base grew rapidly as senior citizens began to recommend the service to their friends. Within a few months, THS had delivered to approximately 100 seniors in the DMV and had made over 700 deliveries to senior citizens nationwide.

“It was definitely surprising when we got so much interest, not just from our friends but from total strangers,” Casertano said.

When THS first started, students from all around Montgomery County reached out to the two sophomores, ready to volunteer. Junior Dylan Vohra discovered the organization through a Facebook post. 

“They were just getting started, and I had been looking for ways to get more involved with the community,” Vohra said. “I knew right away that I wanted to get involved with it.” 

Over the last two months, Vohra and his sister have made up to ten deliveries each week to an apartment complex in Rockville. Not only have they delivered essential goods but also connected with the senior citizens on the receiving end of their deliveries.

“We’ve gotten to know the seniors,” Vohra said. “It’s just really nice because they know us, and they’re really grateful for when we come in and give them the groceries.” 

THS has fought the stigma that teenagers are ignorant of the gravity and devastating effects of the pandemic. The organization is made up of many altruistic teens willing to provide assistance, Pai said.

To Georgetown Prep sophomore Josh Wolfson, volunteering with THS is a way to experience the results of his help firsthand.

“Donating can be great, but it’s really cool to see the actual impact you have on your community,” Wolfson said.

Student volunteers who can’t make deliveries can still contribute to the organization. The non-profit has positions for national organizers and branches for outreach, customer service and website development. 

Churchill sophomore Ria Garg coordinates meetings with teenagers across the nation who are interested in starting a THS chapter.

“We’re always in need of more people,” Garg said. “Don’t be hesitant to join just because you’re afraid to go grocery shopping.”

Casertano and Pai’s service has made the lives of senior citizens easier and safer, said Rebecca Adler, a senior citizen living in the apartment complex where Vohra and his sister make deliveries. She believes the organization has a definitive positive impact on their lives.

“It’s wonderful that these young people are giving to the community,” Adler said. “I don’t know what we would do without them.”

If interested in volunteering for Teens Helping Seniors, reach out by emailing [email protected] or check out their website