Iowa City Errand-ers connects volunteers with elderly, other populations at risk, for grocery shopping and more

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Monday, April 6, 2020

Allie Stutting was worried about her own grandparents when she first began to hear of a possible spread of coronavirus in the U.S. and its effect on the elderly and other at-risk populations.

But it was a tweet about people she didn’t know that propelled her to take action: An elderly couple in Oregon had flagged down a woman in a store parking lot, asking her to shop for them because they were fearful to go inside.

“I was thinking of my grandparents, and how cool it was that this woman had solved that couple’s concerns,” Stutting says. “So, I put out my own tweet in hopes of starting a network of young, able-bodied folks who can help.”

Request help

Those who need help with getting groceries or completing other errands safely during this time can request help through the Iowa City Errand-ers website, and a volunteer—who has been updated on recommended safety measures—will make the delivery free of charge.

Within 24 hours, Stutting’s idea had garnered interest from more than 200 people. She went to work rallying fellow UI students and friends, and within a matter of a few days, created an organization called Iowa City Errand-ers, complete with a website, pages on Facebook and Instagram, and a leadership team. And she started it all from afar, working remotely with friends and contacts who offered to volunteer while she self-quarantined at her parents’ home in Princeton, Iowa, following an out-of-state trip.

The service is now ready for anyone within Iowa City to request an errand, such as food or medication pickup, and a healthy volunteer will make the delivery free of charge.

“A lot of people reached out saying they were eager to help and to share their areas of expertise, which was incredible,” Stutting says. “That’s how we’ve been able to build something so quickly but in a way that’s hopefully going to be strong and effective for the community.”

Stutting, a fourth-year student majoring in history and secondary education, had gained management experiencing working in 2018–19 as executive director of Dance Marathon, an annual student-led fundraiser for the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital that raised more than $2.8 million in its 26th year.

But when her idea for Iowa City Errand-ers reached the level of 400 interested volunteers, “I had to say, ‘OK, I’m only one person,’” she says.

“I signed up right when I saw the tweet. I thought it was an excellent idea, grounded in selflessness and a sense of community. Given my age, health status, and ability, it seemed like something I could do without hesitation.”

—Alex Linden,
UI alumnus from Sioux City, now working in the university’s Office of Leadership, Service, and Civic Engagement

“I don’t have a public health background,” she says. “Because of Dance Marathon, I do have a lot of experience in nonprofit-type work, but that’s very different from a grassroots movement like this. So friends reached out saying they’d love to help with organizing or doing backend things I need help with.”

Stutting secured a group of 15 undergraduates and one graduate student—her boyfriend, Andrew Boge, a doctoral student in communication studies from Johnston, Iowa, who designed the website—to serve as a core leadership group. In order to help offset costs for expenses like purchasing a web domain and marketing materials, the team also established a GoFundMe page, raising just under $1,200 as of April 6.

While the desire to help others made the project come together quickly, the nature of the pandemic itself presented challenges in how to deploy volunteer errand-runners safely.

Monica Myers, a friend a who is serving as an obstetrics and gynecology research intern in University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, agreed to help with volunteer coordination. Myers, of Grayslake, Illinois, graduated from Iowa in December 2019 with a degree in human physiology and is in the process of applying to medical school. She worked on creating a step-by-step process that volunteers must follow to ensure safety. The leadership group has worked with Johnson County Public Health, the UI College of Public Health, and other health officials to keep the safety information accurate and up to date.

“That has been the trickiest part, just because we’ve been getting so much feedback and things have changed so quickly from day to day,” Stutting says. “We’re trying to balance all that to make sure we’re doing everything safely.”

Portrait of University of Iowa student Allie Stutting

“It gives me fulfillment to do things that give me a strong sense of significance. I love being able to make an impact right here and now.”

—Allie Stutting

Stutting developed a safety quiz that interested volunteers must complete and pass before they move on to the next stage in the volunteer process. She also enlisted Alex Linden, who graduated from Iowa in 2018 and now serves the university’s Office of Leadership, Service, and Civic Engagement as an AmeriCorps volunteer, to serve as co-director and help educate the public about the service.

“I signed up right when I saw the tweet,” says Linden, a Sioux City, Iowa, native who studied biochemistry and public health at the UI. “I thought it was an excellent idea, grounded in selflessness and a sense of community. Given my age, health status, and ability, it seemed like something I could do without hesitation.”

Linden is reaching out to community organizations to make them aware of the project and facilitating discussions on how best to structure the service.

“The nature of this pandemic seems to change dramatically each day, so I’ve tried to provide adaptable leadership as we navigate this whole ordeal,” he says. “It’s the simple fact that so many people are willing to help that inspires me. It’s powerful. I just hope that folks can gain some sense of security—that they know they can keep safe at home and have their needs met by selfless, well-intentioned strangers.”

Stutting has been planning to pursue student teaching in the near future, but is now also considering the possibility of pursuing a career in fundraising or philanthropy after her experience with Dance Marathon and creating Iowa City Errand-ers.

“It gives me fulfillment to do things that give me a strong sense of significance,” she says. “I love being able to make an impact right here and now.”