Immunocompromised, elderly can have groceries delivered free by pre-med students in Tampa

For a large portion of the population, going to the grocery store during a pandemic is a difficult, stressful, and scary event.

A group of pre-med students in Tampa is stepping up to help by creating their own grocery delivery service -- free of charge to those vulnerable to severe illness due to COVID-19.

Like other food delivery services, they take a shopping list, pick up groceries, and drop them off. The big differences are that they do not charge a delivery fee, they focus on those in need, and they know how to prevent spreading the virus.

The mission to serve started with a trip that never quite began.

"I actually was coming back from Boston for spring break and we were supposed to go to Cancun and, obviously, and my spring break just lasted the rest of the year," said Roshni Kotwani.

With classes moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kotwani, a pre-med senior at Boston University who lives in New Tampa, started thinking of those who couldn't leave home, even just for groceries.

"Being pre-med, it's always in our mind. What can we do to help others?" Kotwani said.

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She contacted two fellow King High School graduates, Shreya Shivan and Varna Venkatachalam, both pre-.ed seniors at the University of Florida. Pretty soon, the Grocery Grabbers concept was born.

"I think we didn't even think about it. We were just like, 'Yeah, let's do it. We're all in,'" Shivan said. "We wear gloves, we mask up, we hand sanitize, we are all very careful about that."

They keep it simple, communicating via e-mail or phone to get specific requests. People pay just for groceries using Zelle, Venmo or by leaving cash outside their door.

"Mainly, it's people above the age of 60," said Venkatachalam. "It's also people who have autoimmune disorders."

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They've already recruited 20 volunteers, fulfilling a basic need and even curing loneliness along the way.

"It's also someone for them to talk to... When we go over there, they're like, 'How are you? My son's really glad you guys are doing this,' or something like that," Shivan said. "Or, they'll say, 'When all of this is over, come over and we'll have dinner.'"

Though these future doctors have a few more years of school ahead, they're already healing a community in need.

"When we're closer to the source, it kind of pushes us to do more," Venkatachalam said.

"Just to see how thankful people are, just doing this, it makes you realize how needed this was and how many still need this in the Tampa area," Kotwani said.

Right now, they mainly deliver in the New Tampa area, but they hope to broaden their area as they recruit more volunteers.

To get involved or get more information about Grocery Grabbers, e-mail them at grocerygrabbers2020@gmail.com.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to covid-19@flhealth.gov. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

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