Byram Hills Students Deliver in Pinch to Seniors During Crisis

Pictured, left to right, are Byram Hills High School juniors Sam Lubcher, Gabby Ripka and Jack Brook last Saturday outside DeCicco’s in Armonk. They created Community Against COVID-19, a service that shops and runs errands for area senior citizens and others with compromised health who should remain at home.

Last month as the full impact of the coronavirus threat began to unfold locally, Gabby Ripka noticed a large number of senior citizens still shopping for themselves.

It was already known that older residents were among the most vulnerable as the virulent COVID-19 continued to spread.

The Byram Hills High School student reached out to one of her classmates, Sam Lubcher, and asked two other friends to shop for some of the area’s seniors and people who are immunocompromised so they wouldn’t expose themselves to danger.

“I have an awesome group of friends and they would also be willing to volunteer, so with the help of Sam and my two other friends, Alex Hansburg and Jack Brook, we were able to create this service where we actually provide this community with whatever service they need, so they never have to leave their home,” Ripka said.

Since establishing the free service, Community Against COVID-19, less than two weeks ago, the four students, all of whom are juniors, had gone on about 12 grocery runs by last Friday – and there were more orders to fill over the weekend.

Through the Nextdoor app, local Facebook groups and word of mouth, the students have connected with an initial group of seniors who need to have grocery shopping or other errands completed for them.

They have also communicated with other community members through their Instagram account, @Communityagainstcovid19. A website is also under construction, Ripka said.

Last week, an 84-year-old woman from Ossining who has stage IV lung cancer, called Ripka to have groceries picked up. The woman had been told not to leave the house as the threat from COVID-19 intensified.

“We’ve immediately seen the impact that our service has had on people,” Ripka said.

While some of the seniors they’ve assisted are from Armonk, they have also connected with others in Chappaqua and elsewhere. Last Saturday, Ripka said she shopped and delivered to a woman in Hartsdale.

Most of their shopping has been done at DeCicco’s in Armonk, although they’ve also completed orders at Cherry Blossom and at Balducci’s, Lubcher said.

He said the seniors can text them their grocery list and they will do the shopping or they can call their order into the store. If it’s called in, which is the most efficient way, the senior can provide the store with their credit or debit card number and the personnel at the shop will put the order together and bring it outside.

Ripka said they also accept electronic payments or they will lay out the money and work out a reimbursement arrangement when they leave the groceries outside the senior’s door.

Since the students now drive, they have been able to complete all the orders so far, along with help from their parents, Lubcher said. They have lined up six or seven additional volunteers should the demand for their service continue to grow.

“We have the ability to get out and we have the support of our parents, too,” Lubcher said. “As long as we stay safe, they’re alright with us traveling because it’s to help people. We’re able to do it within the Westchester community.”

Ripka said the seniors have the option of donating 4 percent of the price of their order to the Montefiore Health System’s COVID-19 Foundation.

“We’ve communicated with a lot of people who’ve expressed interest in the service and might place orders,” she said. “So we just hope it grows on a weekly basis.”

Lubcher said helping others who need the most assistance right now has been a gratifying experience.

“It feels amazing, actually,” he said. “Something that’s always been big for me is doing something productive, something of value, and to me a large portion of my life before this was doing this.”