Cumberland Councilor Tom Gruber is a member of the town’s Aging in Place initiative, which delivers groceries for seniors and other high-risk people advised to stay away from supermarkets. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

CUMBERLAND — With the coronavirus particularly dangerous to people 65 and older, going to the supermarket is a particularly worrisome task for residents like Judy McAfee.

“Some of us are caregivers for our spouses. My husband has dementia, so I don’t want to get anything that I would give to him,” said the 81-year-old, who lives in Cumberland’s Hawthorne Court senior housing community. “I have to make sure that I’m not going places that I shouldn’t, (and) pick up this virus.”

To McAfee’s relief, Cumberland volunteers have begun shopping with older residents’ lists in hands and delivering groceries outside their door.

Neighboring North Yarmouth has launched a similar program, too, to alleviate concerns of contracting COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus.

Cumberland has launched its Senior Shopping Support Program, a collaboration of the town’s Aging in Place initiative – which provides services for older residents – with its food pantry and Town Council. Volunteers – who can sign up at cumberlandmaine.com/volunteer – are taking itemized orders from seniors, and will shop for them and drop off groceries right outside residences to avoid contact, according to Councilor Tom Gruber, who is also a member of Aging in Place.

“We appreciate this program because we don’t have to worry about, ‘Gee, if I go in the store, am I going to pick up something?'” McAfee said.

Seniors who need help getting food, medicine or other critical items can leave a message at (207) 558-9137 with their names and phone numbers. A town employee will respond and guide the participant through the process. Residents are asked to buy Hannaford grocery store gift cards in $50 increments through the town and pay with a credit card. Volunteers will use the gift card to purchase groceries.

Deliveries are made once a week on Tuesday or Wednesday, with orders placed by 2 p.m. the prior Friday.

At least 50 households in the food pantry’s coverage area – Cumberland, North Yarmouth, Pownal and New Gloucester – benefit from the service, Gruber said.

Cumberland is also keeping its food pantry, which functions like a grocery store, open Friday from 2-6 p.m., but there is no longer contact between clients and volunteers who work there, Gruber said. The “customers,” as he calls them, either pick up items and load them into cars themselves, or if they have trouble doing so, volunteers can load them while the clients wait in the car.

All volunteers must be younger than 60, Gruber said.

Living Well in North Yarmouth has launched its own program. Fire-Rescue Chief Greg Payson a few years ago began what is now a list of 55 residents wanting to be checked on each Tuesday and Friday by phone – particularly amid town-wide emergencies, power outages, snowstorms and now the pandemic. Learning that one older resident needed milk, Payson contacted the Living Well group about a coordinated effort to bring groceries and medicine to residents.

Both the wellness check and grocery services are for all residents who need it – seniors, the disabled and those with compromised immune systems. Nineteen have volunteered as of Tuesday. More information can be found at northyarmouth.org/home/news/wellness-checks-community-needs. People without internet access can call the fire station at (207) 829-3025 to have groceries delivered, or Living Well member Donna Palmer at (207) 829-6230 to volunteer to buy them.

Both Palmer and Payson expected the number of those served to grow as the pandemic continues to spread and pantries shelves become bare.

Residents in need “may be all set now, but if this is an eight-week process like they’re saying it may be, it definitely could grow from there,” Payson said.

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