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Bringing Comfort, Food to the Elderly

Services: Senior center volunteers go grocery shopping for those unable to leave home.

April 26, 2002|ANDREA PERERA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nina Mageary can play with her grandchildren, chat with her neighbors and watch TV. But she can't go grocery shopping.

About a year ago, the 80-year-old North Hollywood resident had a stroke. Not long after, her doctor advised against driving.

"He said I might get dizzy and not know when [the dizziness] was coming on," the small woman with shoulder-length white hair and warm blue eyes said while seated at her kitchen table.

At first, Mageary's son and daughter helped. They would go to Smart & Final and buy loads of groceries. Too many, Mageary said.

But since her son and daughter each had a small child and other responsibilities, it became difficult for them to continue the shopping.

Mageary found herself in a bind, until, out of the blue, she got a call from the East Valley Multipurpose Senior Center in North Hollywood, informing her that there were volunteers ready to pick up her shopping list and money, buy her groceries, bring them back and chat for a while.

Six months since she took the center up on its offer, Mageary looks forward to visits from volunteer Tanya Russell every other week. The two women, one of eight pairs matched through the center, talk on the phone and make an appointment for their grocery day.

Participation is beneficial for the volunteers and the seniors, center officials say. The volunteers do something that makes them feel good, the seniors get help with a basic necessity, and both gain lasting friendships.

Lynda Schwartz, the center's shopping coordinator, said she just wishes more seniors would participate.

"We are trying to recruit seniors, believe it or not, because we have the volunteers," she said.

On Thursday, Russell arrived at Mageary's Bellingham Avenue home at 10:20 a.m. to go over the list. It had the usual items: coleslaw, blueberry muffins, tissues. By 11 a.m., Russell, 75 and newly retired from her job as a community college financial aid officer, was at a Ralphs store two blocks away.

"I know the layout very well," Russell said. "I just zip through."

After checking out, Russell stopped to explain why she enjoys grocery shopping for Mageary.

When she was growing up in the Bronx, Russell said, she lived on the top floor of an apartment building, just above two elderly women who paid her 25 cents to do their shopping.

A quarter was a lot to a 13-year-old girl back then, said Russell, who often clips coupons for Mageary's favorite items while flipping through her Sunday paper. "That's when I learned to comparison shop," she said.

Back at Mageary's house by 11:30 a.m., Russell unpacked the groceries. She said shopping for her friend is no chore.

"I really, really like her," she said. "This is a win-win situation. I get what I want. She gets what she wants."

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