Glad We Met: My Grocery Buddy

Every two weeks I drive down Bloomfield’s Broad Street, turn down a side street, and pick up my grocery shopping buddy – Esther*, a wonderful woman in her 80s.  I’ve been picking her up for a year now, and neither one of us has ever missed a shopping trip.  I have found that I benefit as much from the trips as she does, and I feel ridiculous as she thanks me because I should be thanking her.

When I contacted the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Network in Bloomfield last year, I figured I’d drive a few senior citizens to medical appointments and maybe do some raking or shoveling once in a while.  However, when I got the call from the volunteer coordinator about meeting a woman for regular grocery shopping, I figured that might be better. Why not work combine volunteering with getting my own errands done?  And since I’d be carting my almost two-year-old around too, I knew it was something she would like to do as well.  Yes, my toddler likes to go grocery shopping.  Go figure.

When Esther and I first met, it was a little awkward.  She is a proud person, and we both felt like we were on an interview of sorts.  Esther didn’t seem comfortable with asking for help, and I might have seemed a little too eager to be helpful.  Still, she thought my daughter was adorable, and I wanted to work on my karma – so we became ShopRite grocery buddies thanks to the Bloomfield Division of Human Services.

Over the last year, I have learned an incredible amount about Bloomfield and what it was like in the sixties and seventies.  We’ve driven an extra block here and there to drive by a house she grew up in.  I have also talked with Esther about frustrations with her benefits (which were just cut by close to 50%), errors in her water bill, solicitors coming to the door, Valpaks not coming to her door, worries about her property taxes going up, finding the flavor of cat food her son’s cats will eat, and figuring out which package of “Manager’s Special” meat is a better deal.  Together, we’ve learned which cashiers to steer clear of because they don’t fully get the EBT thing.  And together we laugh when neither one of us remembers where I parked the car.

Since I’m shopping for a family of four, I always qualify for the free Holiday Turkey or Ham.  And because I’m a vegetarian, Esther always gets the freebies.  We trade coupons, her son scours the circular for us as I never do, and he finds deals I would miss.  We share an affinity for Star Trek (she loves Captain Kirk!), and we have political discussions about gun laws, gay marriage, and taxes.   It’s quite the symbiotic relationship, even though any outsider would think Esther was the only one benefiting from our visits. Knowing her has made me more patient with others at the grocery store, and I’m more helpful and understanding when someone is taking their time choosing a tomato or coffee creamer.  I smile more at ShopRite because I know that (most of the) people appreciate it.

The initial awkwardness between me and Esther has fallen away; we now end every shopping trip with a hug and a “See you in two weeks!”  I know that I am lucky to have been paired with her since we hit it off so well, but I can’t help but think that I could have been paired up with many other wonderful people also waiting for assistance.

The Neighbor-to-Neighbor Network is actively looking for volunteers to work with senior citizens, people with disabilities, and other community members.  A wide variety of skills can be utilized – Just want to have coffee and talk?  Can you do minor home repairs or paint a banister?  Are you willing to do gardening or snow shoveling? Does delivering groceries sound appetizing?  It’s all possible.

Contact Lori Berkowitz at 973 680 4017 x4032 or at lberkowitz [at] bloomfieldtwpnj [dot] com.

* I’ve changed Esther’s name.

Kristin has a very unique weblog about the goings-on in Montclair and its environs.

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  1. What a great program and good for you for being involved Kristin!

    I’ve been reading Kristin’s blog for a few motnhs now. I love it. She finds the most interesting treasures around town.

  2. Nice story!
    friendship & food, perfect together!

    We go to 3 different Shop-Rites. We find that milk in those plastic “bottles” have a short lifespan in the ‘Fridge, before going sour.
    To that end, we found that only the Livingston S-R still has plenty of all styles of milk in the older familiar waxed cardboard, and it stays fresh
    for at least 12 days! So, when we need milk, we shop S-R Livingston.
    For Deli it’s ONLY the West Orange (Essex Green) S-R. Bloomfield cannot measure up when comparing deli dept.
    Fish ? Bloomfield cannot be beat! Better Fish than the Fish MARKET !!

    Stop & Shop = Terrible Fish, Terrible Meat and Totally garbage Deli…
    However everything else is very good, especially the bread dept and the bagels and the paper goods aile has really good paper goods and lower priced than all other markets.I’d give S & S grocery & fruits and breads a B+
    Deli, Meat & Fish is a D- at best ! The mints & candy & gum where you check out at S+S is FOREVER STALE !!
    THE BEST MEAT, bar none, is at Eden Gourmeat at # 2 South Orange Ave
    in S.O. Center It is all 100% PRIME. Their Chopped meat is 1/2 Serlion and 1/2 Brisket. and both are the prime. Best Bergers I’ve had.
    Paraippany S-R is a one time breathtaking experience for all to try. But, it’s too far away for me, in the extreme South/West tip of Bloomfield.

    The most helpfull personal of ALL markets – habds down – is the people at the Livingston S-R. If what you seek is not on the shelf and manager will go in the back and look to see if there is any overflow in the back , or if any is due in within the next 20 minutes, and when they pack your goodies they do not make each bag 100 pounds! they pack LIGHT !! YES !!

  3. Sounds like a great volunteer program. We just moved to Montclair with two kids and Kristin’s blog has been an awesome and fun way to get to know the neighborhood. Love it!

  4. What a great volunteer program and it’s wonderful that you found a way to partake with your daughter. Thanks for spreading the word!

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