In a community service project devised by a local student, a band of teen-age girls from Columbia's B'nai B'rith chapter spend Saturdays helping senior citizens with their grocery shopping.
The high school girls, who call themselves the "Shopper Hoppers," accompany older women on shopping trips, gather items, carry heavy grocery bags and provide companionship. In cases where a senior is unable to leave the house, the girls do the shopping.
"I don't think shopping for someone is that big of a deal, but to the seniors, it is," said Aime Kellner, 17, of East Columbia's Long Reach village, president of the girls chapter of Columbia's B'nai B'rith, who came up with the community service idea in September. "And they appreciate it so much."
The program, which has been in operation since November, counts among its volunteers about 10 teen-age girls from throughout Howard County who are members of B'nai B'rith, a national Jewish service organization.
To recruit senior citizens, the chapter has sent fliers to local senior citizens centers and housing complexes, including the Florence Bain Senior Citizens Center and Longwood Apartments, both in Columbia.
So far, teen-agers have worked with three senior citizens, and organizers hope the total will grow as word about the free service gets around.
"I really hope the program catches on," said Lisa Goldman, a B'nai B'rith spokeswoman who founded the Columbia girls' chapter in 1988. "It has a new twist on community service. It really could serve as a model for other B'nai B'rith chapters across the U.S."
On a recent Saturday, Aime and Robin Siskind, a 15-year-old from the Columbia outpost of Beaverbrook, spent the afternoon restocking the pantry of Laura Humphreys, 92, who lives alone in a Longwood apartment.
As the girls jotted down the dozen or so items she needed from the store, the conversation turned from milk and orange juice to the older woman's life experiences.
Ms. Humphreys chatted with the teen-agers for more than an hour about such topics as the prize-winning cats she once owned and her formative years in Texas.
Settled in Ms. Humphreys' living room full of pictures, memorabilia and statuettes, the girls were treated to readings of some of Ms. Humphreys' published poetry, which has appeared in the New York Times and the Saturday Review of Literature.
"She's an amazing woman," Robin said as she and Aime walked to a nearby grocery store with Ms. Humphrey's list and check in hand. "She's done more than the typical person will ever do. She's very intelligent."
Thirty minutes later, the girls returned with four bags of groceries, which they put in the cupboards, under Ms. Humphreys' direction.
The elderly woman had nothing but praise for the Shopper Hopper program. She used to walk to the grocery store, she said, but, with a sprained ankle, she is unable to leave her apartment.
"If they didn't go, I'd have to pay someone to go or trouble my friends here to pick up things for me," she said.
The program also gives the girls a sense that they are contributing to their community.
"I want to expand this program," said Aime, who hopes someone in the chapter will take over as coordinator when she goes to college in the fall. "I want everyone to have this opportunity."
Information about Shopper Hopper is available by calling Aime Kellner at (410) 997-3704.