On a random trip to the grocery store Friday night, Lorena Camarena encountered what thousands of local residents have in recent days — empty shelves and dozens of seniors scanning the aisles in search of necessary supplies.

When Camarena returned to her Santa Monica apartment building, she bumped into an 83-year-old woman wearing a mask and gloves who had recently gone shopping as well. After Camarena gifted her neighbor a bottle of hand sanitizer, the two engaged in a short conversation about the “awful grocery experience” and how much of a risk it is to venture outside.

The senior shared that she wasn’t able to get anything she needed, “but what stuck with me most,” Camarena said, “was her comment that she’s playing Russian Roulette… and that’s not a game she plays.”

Fast forward to Saturday night, Camarena said, “I went on NextDoor and I was seeing a lot of people were posting that they’re going to get groceries and run errands, and there were a lot of responses.”

But seniors aren’t on NextDoor, “so I started at 9 p.m. and was up until 4 a.m. putting together a strategy, a website, (and) a contact form so there can be a centralized effort for seniors and volunteers together.”

“So that led me to start an organization called Santa Monica Community Helpers. And I want to say that I think that word ‘community’ is super important because that is a core idea to the mission statement, which is to bring a group of people around Santa Monica together to make a difference,” Camarena said. “I think we’re so much more powerful together and that’s really the basis of this organization.”

The goal of the helpers, according to Camarena, is to assemble a task force of volunteers across Santa Monica who will deliver groceries, medication, toiletries, and anything else that locals who are seniors or ill may need.

“And the goal or the measure of success — to put it bluntly — is to prevent a death in our community by running these errands and reducing the time that those who are at risk are spending in the outside world,” Camarena said.

“If they can stay home, if they can quarantine to protect themselves and we can help them do that, then I think the effects of that can be huge,” she added. “Because just from talking to seniors this week, a lot of them are not really clear on what this means; some of them think that they can still go out and take a bus somewhere.”

So education is certainly a challenge, according to Camarena, but that’s far from the only roadblock.

In the last week, Camarena has created the organization’s website and accompanying GoFundMe page, “but I am looking to the community to help with the rest,” she said. “And that doesn’t just mean nonprofits, which I am speaking to already. It also includes companies that are also a part of this community — part of silicon beach — because I think we have a responsibility to help those who are in this with us.”

While making a delivery on Tuesday, “I was at the grocery store and I got a phone call from a man who said that he wanted to help and he was trying to do something similar in Venice, and he wanted to partner,” Camarena said, mentioning how she has been looking for a way to handle the hundreds of calls she will soon be receiving if her plan comes to fruition. “He said, ‘Wow! I’m actually calling you because me and my business partner have spent the last month working on this technology that actually allows us to create a hotline. We’d love to know what you think and if you want to partner with us, we would love to make it happen.’

“I tried the hotline last night, and I laughed and shed a tear at the same time because it was literally exactly what I needed,” Camarena said. Anybody can call 323-310-0411 to get connected and it will ask for your zip code and get you started with the process.

“We only set it up on Saturday so we are starting in Santa Monica,” but the goal is to expand depending on the need and number of volunteers, Camarena said. “And we’re definitely open to others reaching out to us and starting this in their own local communities.”

As a daughter of parents who are above the age of 60 and live in San Francisco, it’s hard not being close by to help her family, Camarena said, “but since I’m not there, I want to help my surrounding community and my neighbors and make sure they’re okay and they’re protected… It’s one of those things I never thought I was going to do, but I felt it in my heart and I really wanted to help.”

brennon@smdp.com

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1 Comment

  1. you’re doing a great thing…please also consider the senior women who have no housing to stay in…even more necessary now.

    Maybe all you people with air BnB and other vacation guesthouse/ADU/apts will allow a low income senior woman with no drug/alcohol/mental/social behavior issues to stay in one for the duration?

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