Grocery Shopper – Volunteer Shopper Information

Welcome to the Resource Page for our Grocery Shopper Volunteers. Below you will find important information for people who have completed our volunteer sign up process and who have been explicitly told "You're now a volunteer!" If you are interested in volunteering with us but haven't already signed up to volunteer, please express interest via the button.


New Volunteer Introduction

First of all, thank you so much for helping us deliver groceries to vulnerable older adults in our community!

Now that you've completed our volunteer onboarding process, we'll be periodically emailing you and other grocery shopping volunteers the current grocery shopper requests. Please reply if any of them work for you, wait to get a confirmation back from us, and then call the participant to work out the details. It's as easy as that!

In general, we try to match volunteers with participants on an ongoing basis. This means, unless otherwise stated, after we match you with a participant we expect you to call the participant each week around the same time to check-in and see if they need more groceries. If your schedule changes and you can no longer volunteer, we completely understand. Please just let us know as soon as possible.

After we match you with a participant, please call the participant, as soon as you're able, to work out the details with them. It's also a good idea to call the participant the day before your scheduled grocery shopping trip, just to make sure they remember you're coming.

When it's time to get groceries for someone, please follow our Volunteer Shopping Process.

If you wish, we can reimburse you for the cost of the gasoline you use while volunteering at a rate of 31 cents per mile. To take advantage of this, please fill out our volunteer reimbursement request form each month and email it to us at

If you ever have questions or issues, please reach out to us by calling 831-427-3435 or emailing In addition to asking us, the Senior Network Services website is another good resource for learning about nonprofit services for seniors in Santa Cruz County.

Finally, please make sure to read, and familiarize yourself with, all of the information on this page (especially the FAQ section, below).

Meet Our Dispatchers

We call the people who match volunteer shoppers (i.e. you) with clients who need help "dispatchers." Our dispatchers are the people who check the transportation email inbox and occasionally call you. Most of our dispatchers are, themselves, volunteers who are working remotely from their homes.

Dispatcher Schedule

This is an estimated schedule. (v) = volunteer.

  • Mondays (~ 10am - 2pm): John
  • Tuesdays (~ 10am - 2pm): John
  • Wednesdays (~ 10am - 2pm): John
  • Thursdays (~ 10am - 2pm): Georgia (v)
  • Fridays (~ 9am - 1pm): Denise (v)

Dispatcher Bios

  • Brandi (retired)
    • Brandi is a volunteer intern. She has also been a volunteer shopper herself since April, 2020. In addition to helping coordinate the Grocery Shopper Program, Brandi is helping the Volunteer Center's Stay Connected program and, previously, it's Listos Emergency Preparedness Program.
  • Brandon
    • Brandon is an AmeriCorps member at the Volunteer Center. He helps out the Grocery Shopper Program when we need some extra support.
  • Crystal (retired)
    • Crystal was a volunteer intern from June to September, 2020. She has since moved to France. Congratulations Crystal and thanks for all the help!
    • I am a recent college graduate who is new to California and the Santa Cruz Volunteer Center! I am very passionate about volunteerism, and was looking for work experience at a nonprofit when I discovered the Volunteer Grocery Shopper Program. I am excited to start making a positive impact in my new community!
  • Denise
    • Denise is a volunteer.
    • Since 2018 I have been a volunteer dispatcher for the Senior Transportation Program at the Volunteer Center. I am grateful to the Volunteer Center for allowing me to work from home and coordinate delivery of groceries to people in Santa Cruz county during this coronavirus pandemic.
  • Erin (retired)
    • Erin was an Ecology Action staff member. Ecology Action generously donated Erin's time to help coordinate the Grocery Shopper Program between April and June, 2020. Erin has since left Ecology Action and is now preparing for graduate school. You are missed, Erin!
  • Georgia
    • Georgia is a volunteer.
    • Georgia recently transferred to University of California, Santa Cruz as an anthropology major. She is passionate about understanding and connecting with people. She has been working with the Volunteer Center since July of 2019.
  • John (coordinator)
    • John is a Volunteer Center staff member. John helps coordinate the Grocery Shopper Program but only currently works Monday - Wednesday.
    • You can reach John by emailing
    • I first got involved with the Volunteer Center as a volunteer in the matchmaking program. After volunteering for two years, I was hired part time to help build a web application for managing the Senior Transportation Program. When coronavirus came to Santa Cruz, I joined the Grocery Shopper Program effort full-time (now part-time). I am very passionate about volunteerism. Previously, a lot of my work has been with immigration-focused nonprofits.
  • Krysta (retired)
    • Krysta is an AmeriCorps member at the Volunteer Center. She previously acted as the Grocery Shopper Program coordinator.
  • Laney (semi-retired)
    • Laney is a Volunteer Center staff member. Laney helped start the Grocery Shopper Program when COVID hit but has since shifted her focus back to coordinating the Volunteer Center's Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). She still makes herself available to dispatchers if they have questions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to have the client sign a new Letter of Authorization before each shopping trip?

While previously using the Letter of Authorization was required, now it is optional. You can also reuse the same Letter of Authorization multiple times if you wish. Note though, that the Letter of Authorization/Volunteer Shopping Process also contains additional instructions for how to handle different payment methods. You do need to ensure that you've followed the instructions relevant to the method of payment you're using for each trip.

For example, if a client is paying for their groceries using cash, it's important to record the amount of cash received for each trip before going shopping. This documentation, along with the receipts from grocery shopping, can be used to ensure that you provide the correct change to the client.

Is it ok if I pay for the groceries myself and then receive reimbursement from the client? This would save me an extra trip to their house to pick up payment from them...

If you (the volunteer shopper) are comfortable doing this, and if the client is comfortable with you doing this, then yes, paying for the groceries yourself and then being reimbursed by the client is fine. Bear in mind some considerations that might make this a non-option for your client though.

  1. If the client is using a prepaid card like a Food Stamp / EBT card to pay for groceries, they cannot reimburse you.
  2. If the client is living on a fixed income and is very price conscious, they might feel more comfortable providing you with cash because this ensures that you cannot spend more than they give you. If you are paying for groceries yourself and then being reimbursed by the client, make sure you discuss pricing considerations with the client to make sure you don't accidentally spend more money then they can afford.

If your goal when paying for groceries and being reimbursed is to avoid an extra trip to the client's house, there is also another option that might work. Most grocery store gift cards can be refilled over the phone (Trader Joe's is a notable exception). If the client gets a gift card to the grocery store, writes down the gift card's serial number as well as the phone number to call for refilling it, then the client can give you that gift card to hang on to (if they are comfortable doing so). Then you can use that gift card to pay for groceries and the client can refill the gift card over the phone using a credit card.

What happens if my client repeatedly cancels on me at the last minute?

Clients should not be cancelling prearranged shopping trips at the last minute. Obviously this might occasionally happen for legitimate reasons, and we hope that you are understanding in this case, but if this happens with any regularity (even two times in a row) you should reach out to us. We'll talk with the client and make sure they understand how important it is that they be respectful of their volunteer's time. This means giving notice at least 48 hours in advance of any schedule changes. If it remains a problem, we may consider removing the client from our program.

What happens if my client really doesn't seem to need my help?

If you're paired with a client, and you don't feel like your volunteer time is being utilized in a valuable way, please reach out to us. Because we're coordinating the Grocery Shopper Program remotely, we don't have the ability to meet our clients in person (instead, we onboard everyone over the phone). It's quite possible you have additional information that we are lacking. It's also possible that some clients indicated they need grocery help every week, when really they would be better off getting help every other week or even once a month.

You asked me to get groceries for my client every week, but they are fine with getting groceries every other week or even less frequently than that.

While some clients indicate that they need groceries every week, not all of them do. We generally try and capture this information when initially onboarding a client, but we might forget to write that down or perhaps the client changes their mind. When you are talking with a client, please feel free to work out a volunteer shopping schedule that works for both of you. This could mean shopping every other week or even less frequently than that. This being said, we tell all of our clients that our volunteers cannot help them get groceries more frequently than once a week.

My client asked me to help them with something that isn't grocery shopping. What do I do?

Sometimes we'll hear reports of clients asking volunteers to help them with other chores. For example, in one case a client asked their volunteer to help them rake up leaves in the yard. Our program is specifically for grocery or pharmacy shopping and we tell our clients this as we sign them up.

If you are ever asked to help someone in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable (including if a grocery shopping request makes you feel uncomfortable), please know that you always reserve the right to refuse the request and you can also reach out to us for help.

If a client requests help from you that doesn't fall within our Grocery Shopper Program, and you do feel comfortable helping them, please think twice before agreeing to do so. There have been multiple occurrences of volunteers initially helping someone with other tasks that seem reasonable (like helping fill a senior's propane tank or picking up a gas card for them at Costco) that then spiral out of control over time. Remember, we're helping people on an ongoing basis. If you agree to help someone with extra stuff once, they're probably going to ask you again (and again). We don't want you to burn out as a volunteer and we don't want you to feel pressured to do something you're uncomfortable with.

The simplest way to turn down a client is to simply say "I'm not allowed to help you with that. I'm only allowed to help you get groceries from two stores at most once a week." You can also ask us for help. If you think you're someone who might have a hard time saying "no" to a senior, let us know. We can talk with you and also talk with the client.

At minimum, if someone asks you to do something extra and you're thinking of saying "yes," please wait until after you've helped them get groceries a few times. After a few weeks, you might decide that saying "yes" would be biting off more than you can chew. If you do end up helping someone with extra requests, please be clear that you're helping them out as a private individual and not as a volunteer of the Grocery Shopper Program. In the future, if another volunteer is working with the same client, they might not feel comfortable doing the same extra tasks that you do.

I'm helping a senior get groceries and I feel like they need additional help with other aspects of their life. What should I do?

Occasionally, volunteers helping a new client get groceries have grown concerned that the client needs help with other things as well. For example, help cooking the groceries they get. In these cases, it's aways a good idea to contact us and let us know what you've experienced. We probably aren't aware of the situation ourselves. Many clients in our program get regular help from other programs like In Home Supportive Services or the Multipurpose Senior Services Program, but sometimes we'll start helping someone who should be receiving help from one of these programs but isn't. In these cases, we'll often try to help the individual apply for these other programs.

Other times, a senior might need help with something specific. Perhaps a tenant-rights issue or help using their computer. For problems like these, we recommend looking at the Senior Network Services website that contains a directory of various nonprofit services available to seniors in Santa Cruz County.

Our Contact Information

Volunteer Center staff generally work Monday through Friday 9am - 5pm, but our "dispatcher desk" is generally most responsive between 10am - 2pm, Monday through Friday.

  • Phone: 831-427-3435
  • Email:

Registered Volunteer Resources

These materials are for our fully registered and on-boarded volunteers.

Please read and familiarize yourself with each of these documents. You will also need to print out and bring a copy of the "Client Letter of Authorization" with you when meeting with a client. If you need help printing this document, please reach out to us via email (


Resources for our Senior Clients

Before you meet with a client, we'll talk with them over the phone to explain our Grocery Shopper Program. We will review participant health guidelines and requirements.  We're sharing these documents with you, our volunteers, just as an FYI. You don't need to do anything with these documents.

Grocery- senior-completing-paperwork

Resources for General Health and Safety

Please take the time to review and follow these general recommendations published by the CDC and the Santa Cruz Health Services Agency for minimizing COVID-19 spread: