Like many endeavors that grow beyond their founders’ initial dreams, Deliver Together started with two Morris County teens wanting to help their elders get groceries as the corona pandemic set in.
Since those humble beginnings in late March, Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School seniors Maurice Korish and Adam Hollander have developed Deliver Together into a volunteer enterprise encompassing a network of teen volunteers from public and Jewish high schools in three states.
In October, with more than 700 grocery and meal deliveries completed, Deliver Together won the $3,000 second prize in “Shark Tank: Saving Lives Edition,” a nationwide contest sponsored by Israel Campus Roundtable, a program of the Jewish Federation in Boston.
Event organizer Elan Kawesch said that although it’s a program created by high school students, Deliver Together was accepted to the college-level competition because of its “mission-driven goals and the impressive level of dedication and results that they had already proven in their operations.”
The prize money will help Deliver Together continue providing its services for free, by covering expenses for gas, marketing, personal protective equipment, and other costs the volunteers incur.
“Our organization is entirely student-led and strives to positively impact those affected by covid-19,” Maurice said. “Working together with community leaders, we are organizing free delivery and errand runs to mitigate the spread of the disease among those most vulnerable. This initiative will drastically lower the chances of individuals coming in contact with the virus by ensuring they remain within the safety of their home.”
Adam recalled that he and Maurice, who live near each other in Randolph, “were kind of stunned, like everyone else, by the emergence of covid. I saw how my grandparents and other older people were struggling to get groceries.”
Supermarket deliveries were backed up for days, and many seniors lacked the skills to place orders online anyway.
“Maurice and I thought it was an unnecessary danger for older people to go into a high-risk environment like a supermarket,” Adam said. “So we pondered what to do.”
First, they reached out to Rabbi Menashe East, spiritual leader of Mount Freedom Jewish Center in Randolph, as well as to Rabbi Moshe Rudin of Congregation Adath Shalom in Morris Plains. Both rabbis are on Deliver Together’s advisory committee, along with RKYHS faculty members Rabbi Richard Kirsch and Dr. Steve Stein.
“They connected us with our first clients for deliveries — people they felt were at risk,” Adam said. “We contacted each one and did around 10 to 20 deliveries and simultaneously researched other programs out there.” This resulted in making deliveries to others, such as families with special-needs children who participate in the Chabad Friendship Circle.
They got in touch with Maurice Brown, head of Essex County senior services, who directed them to a food distribution network in Bloomfield. There they met Mayor Michael Venezia of Bloomfield and Essex County Executive Joseph N. Di Vincenzo Jr.. and got more encouragement and advice on making the program succeed.
“The next step in our growth was to facilitate deliveries on a larger scale,” Adam said. “In mid-April, we had friends in local high schools and in our school do a social media blast and we had dozens of volunteers sign up from that. Clients signed up after reading about it in local newspapers.”
Drawing on programming expertise they gained at high school, the co-founders built a website and an algorithm that matches volunteers and clients geographically. Neil Mathew from Morris Hills High School volunteered to upgrade the site, and he maintains it as Deliver Together’s director of technical and web development.
Maurice and Adam launched a GoFundMe campaign and got donations from the local community and from clients. They also received a grant from the Diller Teen Fellows program of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest.
They reached out to other local organizations to see how their volunteer network could help beyond food deliveries. As a result, Deliver Together volunteers brought used bike and book donations to distribution points, including the Salvation Army and University Hospital in Newark.
“We’ve really expanded our horizons into other charitable opportunities,” Adam said. “That’s part of our vision. When the pandemic ends, we hope to continue helping our communities in other ways, through the impressive volunteer network we have gathered.”
They expanded to Florida through volunteer Reuben Zuckerman in Parkland, and in Maryland through volunteer Jonah Blumenthal in Chevy Chase.
“Our website is now capable of facilitating deliveries anywhere in the United State,” Adam said. “We altered the algorithms to allow for that.”
“We have over 80 volunteers across New Jersey, Florida, and Maryland,” Maurice added. “In New Jersey, we cover Essex, Somerset, Morris, and Union counties.”
Significantly, not all the volunteers are Jewish.
“Our goal from beginning was utilize the Jewish community to spread the word — but then to spread beyond the Jewish community,” Adam said. “We have a very diverse group, and that was one of our visions.”
Once school began again, the co-founders had less time to work on the initiative, but at the same time demand waned from its height in the summer months. That could change if covid cases continue to rise as winter sets in.
The young men behind Deliver Together expressed gratitude to their school and to their parents — David and Rina Hollander and Shimon Koresh and Dora Zucker — for instilling in them the importance of serving the community.
“My parents raised me with the values of giving to others and providing for others, especially in times of need,” Maurice said. “So when the pandemic started, I felt it was truly a responsibility to help.”