Living a too-distant border away from his grandmother, Medical Sciences/Biology student Harshil Shah worried about how some isolated, elderly people were managing without the help they needed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, he and seven friends created VoGro, an app that matches volunteers with seniors who need basic tasks done.
The newly launched app offers elderly and immunocompromised adults a way to connect with healthy volunteers for simple non-contact chores such as walking the dog, daily check-ins, mowing the lawn or delivering groceries.
Through the app, ‘helpees’ fill out a form to indicate what help they need. Helpers also sign up and complete a COVID-19 questionnaire declaring they have no symptoms. They can then choose what tasks fit with their availability, proximity and interest.
The pairing, whether for a one-time task or an ongoing basis, can help both the volunteer and the senior make connections within the community. If further incentive is needed, it can earn volunteer service hours for extracurricular credit, Shah said.
VoGro – the name is an amalgam of ‘volunteer’ and ‘groceries’ – checks volunteers through an identity verification program to ensure safety on both sides.
“We all have grandparents in the community who face particular challenges,” said Shah, whose elderly grandparent in the United States receives groceries as part of a delivery service. “For the elderly and immunocompromised, every trip outside means risking their lives, since they are the most vulnerable demographic to this pandemic.”
Shah is in his fourth year at Western and developed the concept, design and rollout of VoGro with seven friends, several of whom are in computer engineering at the University of Waterloo.
Co-developer Harshil Chokshi of Waterloo said VoGro will be useful even after the pandemic eases, since there will always be people in need of helping and being helped. “This is not just an app that’s going to be used while cities are closed. It will be in use after,” he said.
So far, 50 volunteers have signed up, and the team has connected with several retirement homes to help identify where people most need help.
The team received funding from #takingITGlobal, a platform that encourages young people to connect with each other and their communities.