COVID-19 Relief: San Diego’s Joined Forces Are Saving Lives


With the world around us feeling like it’s caving in and thousands of Americans lose their jobs, many people are in desperate need – financially, emotionally, and mentally.

Positivity has spread like wild fire throughout the worldwide pandemic, no matter who you are and what your beliefs are, a hand is always there to help if you need it. San Diego, California’s commitment to their citizens proves this to be true.

Over the course of the next four weeks, San Diego, El Cajon citizens and the elderly will receive over $62,500 in groceries and essential items as a result of a donation from the LA Chargers, a funding initiative from City of El Cajon and partnership with Rock Church, ElderHelp of San Diego and Leave It To Us.

Leave It To Us is a nationwide movement of college volunteers shopping on behalf of homebound senior citizens due to COVID-19 with local efforts led by local SDSU student and Rock Church attendee, Abbie Rieder. 

According to the San Diego Food Bank, out of San Diego County’s 3.2 million residents, 450,000 people face food insecurity every day. Of this number, 177,000 are children. With over 462,000 seniors over the age of 65 in San Diego, almost half lack the financial resources and family support to make ends meet.  That’s on a regular day. With the onset of COVID-19, there is even more of a crisis.

Access to food is a top concern for seniors. Thankfully for San Diego seniors, there is a group of volunteers that is going grocery shopping on their behalf. Michael Arundel, a Junior at the University of Alabama, started an organization of compassionate undergraduate students who are willing to shop for senior citizens grocery and pharmacy needs. This action by a group of Chicagoland area students, has turned into a nationwide movement of college students called, “Leave It To Us – Fee Free Senior Citizen Shopping.” 

Chapters of this organization are sprouting up around the country, and Abbie Rieder, a local SDSU student, and Rock Church member, has launched a San Diego chapter. They have 27 shoppers, already growing, and are ready to shop for San Diego’s local seniors. 

“It’s been so exciting to see how many people have come together to help those in need in our community during this time. Not only have we had the opportunity to serve the elderly by providing their groceries, but we’re also able to offer them some peace of mind. They know that they don’t have to worry about their grocery needs being met, so they can focus on staying healthy. That’s our ultimate goal – to enable vulnerable populations to stay home to keep them healthy and safe.”

Abbie Rieder

Rieder along with volunteers from Leave It To Us and the Rock Church Young Adults group are partnering to help the seniors of ElderHelp in San Diego with a generous donation of $10,000 from the LA Chargers. The volunteers will use the gift cards to shop for the seniors of ElderHelp. This will be used to supplement what they receive from the San Diego Food Bank. ElderHelp will then distribute the groceries directly to the homes of seniors. In addition to the $10,000, the Chargers donated $8,000 that provided 70 households with groceries and necessities. 

“We’re one of the few agencies in the county that goes into the homes of our seniors, providing vital services such as grocery shopping, transportation, friendly visiting, medical advocacy and more,” shares Executive Director of ElderHelp Deb Martin.

When the Stay at Home order was issued, we knew we had to pivot our model of service delivery.  We also realized we’d have to ask 30% of our volunteer team age 65+ to stay home as well. We’re seeing a surge of new volunteers like the college students from Leave It To Us and the Rock Church stepping up to help.  What’s most important is making sure all seniors have the food and supplies they need as well as resources to sustain their well-being.  That’s why gifts from programs like the Rock Church’s Grocery Shopping Project are so important.”

Deb Martin

Martin shares the story of one of the seniors this grocery partnership is helping:

“We recently had a call from a senior who lives on her own with no internet access and has lost two of her three jobs.  She is worried about paying her rent and also needs access to food. Having groceries delivered to her doorstep will extend her small Social Security income and help her at least have something to eat for the next week.”

For over 46 years, ElderHelp has been supporting seniors who live independently in their homes, typically serving about 6,500 seniors and their families each year. ElderHelp provides personalized services that help seniors remain independent and live with dignity in their own homes. They are currently helping 750 seniors on a daily basis including 280 that live in residential buildings and receive food from food banks and 470 that live in their homes and receive food drop offs from background checked ElderHelp volunteers. 

Upon hearing about the impact of ElderHelp, Leave It To Us, and the Rock Church Young Adults group, and the LA Chargers, the City of El Cajon wanted to support the effort as well. The City of El Cajon has funded an initiative of $44,500 to support food distribution to residents of El Cajon in need. 

“The Rock Church has a long track record in El Cajon of lending a hand during adversity.” said City Manager, Graham Mitchell. “When our community faces challenges, the Rock has continuously risen to the challenge – this time to deliver food to those who are at risk of COVID-19. We are so grateful for this partnership with the Rock Church which allows those most at risk to stay home and safely shelter in place.”

A recent needs assessment done by ElderHelp during the COVID-19 crisis found food insecurity and supplies including toilet paper, paper towels, and wipes as the greatest need. ElderHelp receives a weekly delivery of 1,000 lbs of canned goods to their office from the San Diego Food Bank, but it does not provide fresh food and supplies. 

The most frequently requested items from the seniors include meat, veggies, fruit, oatmeal, peanut butter, meats, cheeses, eggs, bread, toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizers, and cleaning wipes.

Miles McPherson and the leaders of the Rock Church started the Do Something Church as part of the Rock Church’s initiatives in 2009 when they asked the Mayor of San Diego and other city leaders how the Rock Church could best serve the city. It came at a time when recession had forced budget cuts and many projects were left undone.

The result was thousands of volunteers being mobilized to serve the City of San Diego. It grew to Miles and Rock ministry leaders training others through the Do Something Church how to establish similar community partnerships in their cities.

For those that would like to volunteer, are interested in partnering, or would like to request help, visit: 

The efforts in San Diego are a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and they continue to change and save people’s lives every day. San Diego exemplifies how the world is coming together as one, and help is available, regardless of who you are.