SANTA MONICA—AllTogether LA, a non-profit organization that was founded on March 14 after the outbreak of the pandemic, dedicates to protect seniors in Los Angeles County by delivering groceries, medication, and items they need to their homes. The organization connects seniors with background-checked volunteers and picks up necessities for them in order to help seniors stay safe at home.
“A lot of seniors have had to make difficult choices between staying safe at home or going out to get their groceries and the medication they need,” said Lorena Camarena, the founder of AllTogether LA in an interview with Canyon News.
Camarena indicated that after realizing many seniors in her community had difficult times to get groceries and no direct services were established for them, she decided to think bigger and seek ways to help them. Camarena built the website on March 14 and contacted the city of Santa Monica, some local press, and non-profit organizations to make everything work and let more people know about the information.
“It happened really quickly. After the website was created, many volunteers have signed up within a week and now we have more than 300 volunteers among Los Angeles County,” said Camarena. She said the leadership team is comprised of professionals across the Entertainment, Technology Sectors, Health, Legal, or Social Services.
Since some seniors have no access to the internet, but still need help, AllTogether LA has posted flyers on local supermarkets and pharmacies and delivered the message via the radio to raise awareness.
Seniors who live in Los Angeles County can call the hotline at 323-310-0411, provide a zip code, and leave a brief message to let AllTogether LA know what they need. By providing the zip code, the organization can connect seniors with volunteers who are in the same area within 24 hours. The organization will match each volunteer with one to two seniors, and volunteers need to consistently check in with the seniors. “A lot of seniors feel embarrassed at the idea of needing help,” said Camarena. She mentioned that when the volunteers spontaneously check in with the seniors regularly, they can better understand what the seniors need and serve them. “We also make sure all the volunteers wear masks and gloves as we really take safety seriously,” said Camarena.
“It is not just a delivery service. We hope our organization can get to know our neighbors and the communities across LA,” said Camarena. She added that AllTogether LA not only picks up necessities for seniors but chats with them as many seniors are lonely during the quarantine time.
“The lady told me that I am just like a daughter to her and she is so thankful,” said Camarena while discussing one of her memorable experiences with Canyon News. She said that after she helped a low-income lady with groceries, she realized that she can actually do more, so she connected the lady with other non-profit organizations that can also offer long term resources. Camarena said the lady told her “an angel has been sent to me.” Camarena mentioned that for those seniors who live alone and really need help, they have used the word “angel” to describe the volunteers since they think it’s lucky to have someone’s help.
“I did grocery shopping and got the prescription to seniors, and I also went to the food bank picking up free food for those who cannot afford it,” said Andrew Follick, who first joined AllTogether LA as a neighbor volunteer. Follick is in the dispatch team and helps match volunteers and seniors. “I feel great to talk to seniors and see what kinds of help they need. I never try to rush through the conversation, and I think it’s interesting to just listen to how everyone is getting through this time,” said Follick.
Elle Kelley, who is a volunteer in the dispatch team of AllTogether LA, said the first senior she has kept in touch with hadn’t been out of her house in three weeks at that time and had no groceries. Kelley said she went shopping with her, took photos with her, and taught her how to use the technology.
“I think that made a huge difference to her. She was so happy and couldn’t stop thanking me. It was a rewarding experience for her because someone took the time to help her, listened to what she needed, and valued her opinions. She sent me the thank you note, and she followed up. She has consistently been reaching out to me for not only telling what she needs but also how she is doing,” said Kelley.
“Many seniors needed help even before the quarantine. The pandemic is just amplifying a lot of issues in our society that have been overlooked,” said Camarena. She indicated that seniors have always been a vulnerable population and they are just more vulnerable now than ever before. She mentioned that recently she has been thinking through the ways to reach out to seniors who cannot speak English, but also need help. Camarena hopes she can get in touch with local publications that present the news in other languages, so more people can get the assistance they need.
Camarena said even after the lockdown ends, AllTogether LA will still serve seniors. So far, they have collaborated with LA Helping Hands to expand their collective reach in all of the LA County and provide more services.
“I’m excited to partner with AllTogether LA. I think we can put together the best parts of each organization and expand services to all of the LA County,” said Priya Chatwani, a college student who founded LA Helping Hands to serve people in need. Chatwani said her goal is to bring the community together and get resources to people who are unable to pay for their groceries since she has gotten many calls from seniors who could not afford their groceries.