SALT LAKE CITY — As Hoang Ha was surfing through the community website nextdoor.com he noticed two trends.
A number of his elderly and immunocompromised neighbors, concerned about going out in public, were looking for someone to do their grocery shopping for them — and a number of his young and healthy neighbors were asking how they could help.
“I wanted to centralize some of the stuff I saw there,” Ha said. “My main goal was to help my neighbors out using the skills that I have.”
So in March, the 48-year-old computer programmer and Hurricane native created a website called Neighbors Helping Neighbors, where elderly or immunocompromised people can put in grocery or errand requests.
In less than a month, Ha’s website nhelpingn.com amassed 418 volunteers across Utah and fulfilled 362 requests, spanning St. George to Ogden.
“It’s really, really reduced our stress,” said Harold Carr, a Salt Lake resident who was one of Ha’s first clients. Carr is in the at-risk age group and his wife, Flavia Cervino-Wood, has a breathing disorder. Both had been in quarantine since early March and grew increasingly nervous as they looked at their dwindling food supply.
So Carr and his wife put in a request through Neighbors Helping Neighbors.
“Within 15 minutes Hoang called us,” Carr said. “He went to the store without coming to our house ... and when he got here we paid him through Venmo.”
Ha’s intuitive website allows anyone in Utah to put in a request, be it for groceries, hygiene products, prescription drugs or even bank withdrawals. Volunteers can also register through the website, although they are required to go through a screening process to rule out anyone with COVID-19 symptoms. Ha wrote several algorithms that pairs a volunteer with someone in need, based on the location and type of request.
A few similar programs have popped up along the Wasatch Front, including the Salt Lake chapter of the Chicago-based nonprofit Leave It To Us, which University of Utah senior Ben Haggard started last week.
Much like Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Leave It To Us is a delivery service that brings groceries and other essential products to senior citizens and other at-risk households.
Haggard was living in the basement of his parents’ home in North Dakota after his classes were moved online. But as the spread of COVID-19 continued to confine his elderly neighbors to their homes, Haggard reached out to Michael Arundel, University of Alabama undergrad and founder of Leave It To Us.
Arundel told Haggard he wanted to launch a chapter in Salt Lake City, so Haggard recruited a few of his friends at the U. and hopped on a flight to Utah. Although the chapter is only one week old, Haggard is hoping to get as many volunteers on board as possible.
“The reality is that I have a lot of time on my hands, so why wouldn’t I want to help out in the community?” Haggard said. “It’s a no brainer to go get groceries for someone that can’t.”
On Wednesday, Haggard helped deliver groceries to Klancy de Nevers, an 86-year-old woman who’s barely left her house in the past month.
“It’s scary to think that I’m not safe to go outdoors until we get the vaccine,” she said. “That’s not a pleasant thought.”
So last week de Nevers, who has lived in her house by the University of Utah for 55 years, reached out to Haggard. Friday marked the third time she’s had supplies delivered to her home.
“It’s a wonderful service ... I’m very grateful for it,” she told the Deseret News. “We’re all being separate in our homes, but we’re together as a community, connected in all the ways that we can, and it’s very nice to see people helping each other.”
While getting groceries might be a “no brainer” for Haggard and creating a website might be an easy task for Ha, the selflessness of both men could literally be life-saving. If nothing else, these delivery services have relieved the paralyzing anxiety many feel when faced with the simple task of buying food or picking up medication.
“I just want to say thank you, thank you, thank you,” said Carr. “The fact that he’s doing this really is both magnanimous and brave ... it’s amazing.”