Most weeks, Kaila Zimmerman-Moscovitch is busy juggling a full load of college classes and two part-time jobs. It’s a schedule that doesn’t allow for much free time.

With the coronavirus upending her normal routine and her part-time jobs canceled for the time being, the 20-year-old from the Chicago area found herself with plenty of free time. Time that she now spends at the local supermarket. No, Kaila isn’t pursuing a third job as a grocery clerk; rather, she’s become a different kind of essential worker—shopping for people stuck in their homes because of the pandemic. And she’s doing it for free.

Kaila began by shopping for her pregnant mother and her aunt. “I then decided to post on a Jewish Chicago Facebook page saying if anybody needs help with shopping, I’m able to do that.”

The requests poured in. Some people needed just a few items, while others had pages and pages of needed supplies.

“As a kid, I learned about Tikkun Olam [‘repairing the world’] and I think for me growing up, my mom always told me, ‘Do good, do good.’ I think that helped in a lot of ways. I just feel like I’m supposed to do it, that it’s the right thing for me to do,” says Kaila, who went to a Chabad Hebrew school and attended Camp Gan Israel Chicago growing up.

Rounds of Shopping, Sorting and Delivering

What makes Kaila’s volunteer work particularly inspiring is her dedication to what she’s doing. The oldest of three children—she has a 10-year-old sister and a 1½-year-old brother—Kaila sets out around 9 a.m. and some days doesn’t get home until 8 at night.

Her first shopping stop is a local chain supermarket with a large kosher-food selection. Then she moves on to local kosher markets—one of which she visits every Thursday to get her clients meat for Shabbat and another that she calls a “little nugget” because of the variety of items. Originally, Kaila went to get the meat orders on Fridays, but found that she couldn’t fulfill all the orders, so she switched her days.

“Typically, I shop for about five families a day,” she says, though the amount of groceries varies widely. “If I do a big order for one family, I will fill up a cart and take it back to my car, and then go back into the store. The people at the markets know me now, so they will sometimes let me back in without having to wait on line [to enter] again.”

Kaila keeps freezer bags in her trunk to keep items cold; has a supply of disinfectant spray and hand sanitizer on hand at all times; and will stop at multiple stores to ensure that she gets not just the right item, but the brand a family prefers. She also checks for the kosher symbol to make certain that the product is fine for all to eat.

By her own estimates, the 20-year-old says she uses almost a pack of gloves each day between her various rounds of shopping, sorting and delivering. “I change my gloves when I get in the car, when I get to the market, when I put the bags in the car,” she says. She even helps some of the families she delivers groceries to disinfect items before bringing them into their homes.

Dena Shapiro, a social worker in Chicago, who has several young children at home and is expecting another, initially tried to use commercial food-delivery services, but found that there were inherent issues with them.

“Between ordering kosher food and my son having food allergies, it is really hard to get what I need from the store. And by the time you get a delivery slot, half the stuff is out of stock. Plus, they are substituting stuff, which is a huge problem with kosher and allergies.”

She’s had none of those issues with Kaila.

At Her Core, a People Person

“Kaila is a very sweet person, very unselfish and incredibly charitable,” says Shapiro, whose 70-year-old mother also gets groceries delivered by Kaila. “She’s taking so much of her time doing this. She’s not just running into the store and saying ‘I can’t find something’ and leaving, she’s calling and making sure she’s getting the right items. And she’s driving all over to make her deliveries.”

When Kaila does take downtime these days, she can be found playing with her year-old dog, Snoopy, who “doesn’t look like a puppy. When Snoopy stands, she’s almost as tall as I am, and I’m 5’ 7.” Kaila also likes to color, though she says, “I’m not an artist; I’m more the person who colors other people’s drawings.”

At her core, though, Kaila is a people person. Which is perhaps why she gravitated towards a volunteer endeavor that requires her giving so much of her own time to others.

Rabbi Schneur Scheiman, director of Camp Gan Israel in Chicago, isn’t surprised that this particular college student has devoted herself during the pandemic to helping others. “I’ve known Kaila and her extended family for close to 10 years now, and I’m so not surprised. Chesed runs through their veins,” he said.

Despite what she’s doing, not everyone has had positive things to say. One person posted online that she needed to help herself first. That is something, Kaila insists, she is definitely doing.

“In my eyes,” she says, “I am helping myself. I am wearing a mask. I use hand sanitizer. I use gloves. I am able to wake up healthy and fine, and not have to worry. It’s just a good feeling to help people who I know can’t get out of their house. One family even calls me their ‘mitzvah girl.’ That makes me very happy.”