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Paulina Ruta (left) and Lexy Chavez (right) are the co-directors of Invisible Hands PHL. (Photo from Paulina Ruta)

Penn students recently launched Invisible Hands PHL to deliver essentials — for free — to elderly, disabled, and immunocompromised Philadelphia residents who are homebound due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rising Wharton senior Paulina Ruta and rising College senior Lexy Chavez partnered with Invisible Hands Deliver, a community-based organization with over 10,000 volunteers who deliver groceries, prescriptions, and other necessities to those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19. 

The Philadelphia delivery service has been running for approximately two weeks and currently operates throughout Philadelphia County. Co-directors Ruta and Chavez said they have focused on raising awareness of the organization and gaining volunteers through word-of-mouth and social media. 

Ruta attended high school with one of the founders of Invisible Hands Deliver, and reached out to create the Philadelphia partnership in April. 

Invisible Hands PHL currently has more than 250 volunteers, Ruta said, who either carry out contactless deliveries to Philadelphia residents or work remotely by taking calls from residents requesting items to be delivered. To request a delivery, residents can place an order through the group's website or by phone. Ruta said many of the volunteers working remotely for the call center are Penn, Temple, and Drexel students.

“We got a lot of volunteers that have been going to school here and went home due to the pandemic, but really still want to give back to the Philly community that they’ve grown to love over the years,” Ruta said.

Rising College senior Georgeanne Dinan, who volunteers remotely to take phone calls from residents requesting deliveries, said the program's call center increases access for vulnerable members of the community who lack internet service or a computer. 

“It’s impactful because a lot of the people I talk to don’t have internet access, or aren’t really comfortable using computers," Dinan said. "And I think at Penn that’s something we might take a little bit for granted, that sort of computer literacy. Not everyone has a working computer or has internet access, or is comfortable with using that." 

Invisible Hands PHL Operations Manager and 2020 College graduate Ahab Alnemri lives outside of Philadelphia in Ambler, Pennsylvania, and has been driving to deliver groceries and medicine for the organization. He said he plans to begin more deliveries once he moves back to Philadelphia this summer. 

Rising College senior Anna Lisa Lowenstein works at the Invisible Hands call center from her home in Toronto. She said she found taking calls from residents a fairly easy way to help affected Philadelphia residents and is pleased that she can help elderly and immunocompromised people from her home.

“It’s been really helpful to me to volunteer and feel a part of something bigger during this otherwise isolating time, and also to feel reconnected with Philadelphia and try and help people there in some small way,” Lowenstein said.

Ruta and Chavez said they hope to expand Invisible Hands PHL's work to the Greater Philadelphia area as soon as possible. They also hope to gain more volunteers to ensure that vulnerable residents can stay safe at home during the pandemic. 

“Just taking someone’s order is obviously a pretty simple task, but knowing that it has really real ramifications — it’s about getting food for people. That’s really essential, and it means a lot to people,” Dinan said.

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