Bicyclist volunteers help residents and business in a time of need – and are prepared to do more
Anne was in a precarious situation. Living in senior housing in Cambridge and not having access to a car, she was having trouble finding a grocery store that would deliver to her building. Whenever she tried to arrange delivery, there were either no times available or she became overwhelmed by all the steps required to place an online order. Then she saw an update from the city advertising Cambridge Bicycle Safety’s free bicycle delivery service, formed especially to help seniors such as her during a period of extreme social distancing. She filled out a simple online form requesting a delivery from Pemberton Farms, and a volunteer contacted her within hours. By telephone, they arranged a mutually agreeable pickup time for the next day. Anne placed an order for curbside pickup, and the volunteer picked it up as planned and delivered it to her the next day.
Arah, a volunteer with Mutual Aid of Medford and Somerville, shops for a number of households every Friday. She used to deliver these groceries herself, but recently she started listing the deliveries on the Cambridge Bicycle Safety request form. Within minutes she had volunteers who could pick up groceries at her house and deliver them by bike to their appropriate destinations. The orders vary in size – one Friday there were large loads with both heavy items and delicate ones (for example seltzer, juice and eggs). Arah found some volunteers with cargo bikes and a number of volunteers with panniers and backpack to fulfill her request. Now every Friday, several mutual aid recipients get their groceries by bicycle.
At the end of March, with the Covid-19 pandemic escalating, Cambridge Bicycle Safety’s large network of supporters decided we could be a source of help for the community. We knew social distancing meant people would be trying to avoid store visits, and something like a bike delivery service for seniors and other vulnerable people seemed like a natural fit. At the same time, Cambridge Bicycle Safety is very supportive of local businesses – cyclists often frequent them rather than big box stores – and the group wanted a way to support these businesses that were struggling for survival. Combining the needs, Cambridge Bicycle Safety organized a bike delivery service. There are more than 250 volunteer cyclists offering a free service to seniors and other vulnerable residents to pick up store orders by bike from local businesses that support curbside pickup and contactless ordering.
Focused initially on groceries, other small businesses requested the service and it now includes deliveries from any Cambridge or Somerville business. In May, the group mobilized to help Living Well, an organization serving older adults in Cambridge, in distributing more than 500 masks to seniors in Cambridge. We now serve parents with small children who cannot get out easily to do pickups, and anyone under self-imposed quarantine. The service has proven a win-win for recipients and volunteers, who are happy to contribute their time and energy.
More than 50 people have made use of the service to date by using a request form on the Cambridge Bicycle Safety website or calling the service’s request line. It’s been a challenge to get the word out to potential users, though. In addition to Mamas and its equivalent, Cambridge Mutual Aid, senior housing administrators, the Cambridge Council on Aging and other groups have been contacted to post and share flyers and to let people know the service is available.
Randy Stern is a member of Cambridge Bicycle Safety.
Feature image by Dawn Danby via Flickr.