Volunteer Information

Santa Cruz Transportation / Grocery Shopper Program

Welcome to the resource page for our current 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 not currently an active volunteer, please first sign up to volunteer.

New Volunteer Introduction

First of all, thank you so much for helping older adults in our community!

If you are reading this page, then you've completed our volunteer onboarding process and agreed to help seniors get groceries and/or a ride to important appointments. We'll be periodically emailing you and other volunteers requests we receive from seniors.

  • Here's an example of an "Upcoming Grocery Requests" email and here's an example of an "Upcoming Ride Requests" email (caveat: you can only view those examples if you've been fully onboarded as a volunteer shopper and/or driver and you have a google account associated with the email address that you provided us--if you don't have a Google account it's no problem, you'll still receive our emails in the future, you just can't view these specific examples).

When you receive an email like this, please reply if you can help with any of the requests. Then, wait to get a confirmation back from us. If we assign you to help that individual, call the participant to work out the details. It's as easy as that!

  • If you are participating in the senior transportation program, in general ride requests are for a specific date and time and are not flexible (e.g. a doctor's appointment on the 25th at 1:15pm).

  • If you are participating in the grocery shopper program, in general we try to match volunteers with participants on an ongoing basis and the actual shopping date/time associated with a request is flexible. 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 request, just to make sure they remember you're coming.

If you wish, we can reimburse you for the cost of mileage and gasoline while volunteering at a rate of 50 cents per mile. Please fill out our volunteer activity log each month and email it to us at transportation@scvolunteercenter.org. You may also donate your mileage back to the Volunteer Center and use our In-Kind form for tax purposes.

If you ever have questions or issues, please reach out to us by calling 831-427-3435 or emailing transportation@scvolunteercenter.org. 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).

Please submit this (1 question) form to confirm that you have read through this information. If you don't do this, we're going to follow up with you via a phone call in a week or two to check in and make sure you've had a chance to read this page as it contains some very important information.

Program Goals

The focus of the Senior Transportation/Grocery Shopper Program is to help older adults who can no longer drive. More broadly, the Transportation/Grocery Shopper Program seeks to keep seniors connected in our community. While the largest focus of our program is on helping people get where they need to go, a very important secondary goal is engaging with seniors and working to make them feel less isolated.

Program participants receiving help benefit from more than just the transportation/groceries: they benefit from the human connection with you, their volunteer. Here are some quotes that have shaped the way we think about our work:

  • "The few times I’ve had to take public transportation was really not comfortable. I have to take either a cane or a walker and it’s stressful. Especially coming back after the treatment is stressful because I can be disoriented."

  • “Being alone and at home during the pandemic, I have come to understand the feeling of loneliness and find myself missing connection.”

  • "When you lose your walking ability you lose your identity with socialization."

  • "The services you offer alleviate a lot of my anxiety about living alone. It would be great to have a service where I can get a ride to run errands, such as the post office and the hardware store."

The conversations you have with participants during their ride or when dropping off their groceries might be as important as fulfilling the request itself. It's important to be outgoing when interacting with your client (e.g. ask them about their day).

From time to time a participant might want to "tip" you. Please encourage them to donate to the Transportation/Grocery Shopper Program (we can provide donation envelopes).

Meet Our Dispatchers

We call the people who match volunteers (i.e. you) with clients who need help "dispatchers." Our dispatchers are the people who check the transportation email inbox, answer phone calls, 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 (~8am - 12pm): Vanessa

  • Tuesdays (~ 10am - 2pm): Tammy [v]

  • Wednesdays (~ 10am - 2pm): Nick [v]

  • Thursdays (~ 10am - 2pm): Vanessa

  • Fridays (~ 10am - 1pm): Denise [v]

Dispatcher Bios

Denise (since 2018)

  • 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.

Nick (since 1/2021)

  • Nick is a volunteer.

  • Nick is retired from a long career in public service. He volunteered as a driver for the RSVP Senior Transportation Program in 2018 and continued until the program was suspended due to the COVID pandemic in March 2020. He is again driving for that program since its resumption in June 2021. Nick is also a volunteer shopper for the Grocery Shopper Program, routinely shopping for several clients a week. Nick also volunteers one day a week as an online/telephone dispatcher for these programs.

Tammy (since 2/2022)

  • Tammy is a volunteer.

  • Tammy is recently retired from a career in high tech as a program manager. She's enjoying her next chapter as a volunteer, and also with helping out with watching a few of her grandchildren. Both efforts are rewarding for her!

Vanessa (since 10/2021)

  • Vanessa is a Volunteer Center staff member.

Frequently Asked Questions

These frequently asked questions are applicable to both volunteer shoppers and volunteer drivers.

Are clients required to be vaccinated?

While volunteers are required to be fully vaccinated, Volunteer Center clients are not required to be vaccinated. Our dispatchers are not allowed to record or share the vaccination status of clients (even if we happen to learn it). This being said, volunteers and clients themselves are free to ask each other about their vaccination status.

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

Clients should not be cancelling prearranged trips at the last minute. Obviously this might occasionally happen for legitimate reasons, and we hope that you are understanding in these cases, but if this happens with any regularity without justification (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.

My client asked me to help them with something that isn't transportation/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 transportation, grocery shopping, or pharmacy pickup 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, please know that you always reserve the right to refuse the request and you can also reach out to us for help. You also have the right to change your mind after accepting a request, if you later decide that you are not comfortable with what is being asked.

If a client requests help from you that doesn't fall within our Transportation/Grocery Shopper Program and you do feel comfortable helping them, please still 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.

You can also ask us for help in these situations. 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.

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

Occasionally, volunteers helping a client have grown concerned that the client needs help with other things as well. For example, help cooking the groceries they get or regular help around the house. In these cases, it's aways a good idea to contact us and let us know what you've experienced. We might not be 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 other programs but isn't. In these cases, we'll generally 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 (and you can also reach out to us).

If you are concerned that a senior is being abused, please let us know right away. Our staff members can document your concern and seek help.

Additional FAQ - Volunteer Shoppers (click to expand)

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

While previously (i.e. in 2020) 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 and Volunteer Shopping Process documents also contain 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.

  3. 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, as needed, using a credit card.

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, clients cannot request grocery help more frequently than once a week. For example, if you're asked to get groceries twice a week, you can either direct the client to reach out to us at 831-427-3435 (in which case we'll politely tell them no) or you can tell the client that, you're sorry, but you're only allowed to shop once-a-week at most. The reason is that we have limited volunteer capacity. We'd much prefer that a volunteer shop for two people once a week than one person twice a week.

Additional FAQ - Volunteer Drivers (click to expand)

We currently don't have any driver-specific frequently asked questions, but will add them here as they arise.

Resources - Volunteer Shoppers (click to expand)

These materials are for our fully registered and on-boarded volunteer shoppers. Please read and familiarize yourself with each of these documents.

Client Letter of Authorization

Volunteer Shopper Guidelines

  • Provides guidelines for how to safely help and interact with clients.

  • English version

Check-Accepting Stores

  • This is the list of stores we've partnered with which can accept personal checks from our clients. If clients have another form of payment (such as cash or Food Stamps/EBT), then they aren't limited to this list.

  • English version

Volunteer Driver Mileage Log

  • Complete this form and email it to transportation@scvolunteercenter.org if you'd like to be reimbursed for your GSP mileage (you can also snail-mail it in).

  • English version

Resources - Volunteer Drivers (click to expand)

These materials are for our fully registered and on-boarded volunteer drivers. Please read and familiarize yourself with each of these documents.

Volunteer Driver Guidelines

  • Provides guidelines for how to safely help and interact with clients.

  • English version

Volunteer Driver Mileage Log

  • Complete this form and email it to transportation@scvolunteercenter.org if you'd like to be reimbursed for your GSP mileage (you can also snail-mail it in).

  • English version

Our Contact Information

The Santa Cruz Volunteer Center, itself, is generally open Monday through Friday 9am - 5pm, but the STP/GSP "dispatcher desk" is generally most responsive between 10am - 2pm, Monday through Friday (the Dispatcher Schedule, above, shows more precise availability information).

Provide Feedback

Want to provide feedback? We love feedback and constructive criticism! You can always email or call us if you want to share an experience or an idea for improvement (a lot of the improvements we've made in the past year have come from volunteer feedback). If you'd like to provide feedback anonymously, you can do so by submitting this feedback form and leaving the "name" section blank.