DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- Beth Pridday has taken so many grocery orders over the past three months that she jokes about knowing “what about a third of Detroit Lakes is eating on a regular basis.”

There’s one gentleman who prefers very specific varieties of canned beans, for example, and a woman who always requests two packages of Oreo cookies (“Don’t judge me,” she then tells Pridday.)

Every caller Pridday has talked to during her recent volunteer efforts has at least one unique preference like that. And she has enjoyed getting to know each and every one of them.

As the volunteer coordinator for Volunteer DL, Pridday has been taking and fulfilling requests for home deliveries of food, medications and other needed items during the COVID-19 pandemic. People who call in are mostly senior citizens or vulnerable adults with underlying health issues.

At Volunteer DL's peak, Pridday was getting calls seven days a week, completing 10 to 20 requests per day. That’s slowed down now, she said recently, and Volunteer DL is gradually phasing out as social distancing restrictions ease and clients find other ways of getting their essentials.

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Volunteer DL matches willing volunteers with people in need of assistance during the pandemic. The program grew out of a small grassroots effort by the Detroit Lakes Police Department and rapidly expanded into a county-wide operation with a volunteer base of as many as 65 people.

Pridday has a long history of active volunteerism in Detroit Lakes. She was recruited to lead Volunteer DL after it got bigger and busier than the police department could handle. She was happy to hop on board.

“I know how important it is for people to be able to get their medicines and groceries and essential supplies,” Pridday said. “And like a lot of people, I was looking for something to do, too, while I was staying at home.”

Her role as volunteer coordinator is to organize and maintain the database of volunteers who are registered with Volunteer DL, and then track and document every call for service. She is the point of contact for the public; she answers all the calls in and then makes calls to find a volunteer who can help. The volunteers make the deliveries and do most of the legwork, such as grocery shopping, though Pridday sometimes does those things, too.

Hers is primarily a desk job, but it has a big human element.

“The calls I get are fun and interesting,” she said. “The busiest week was the week leading into Easter, because people still wanted to celebrate and have an Easter dinner, and they would describe the kind of ham and turkey they wanted, they shared recipes … I think it (calling Volunteer DL) is also a way for them to socialize. I think a lot of these people feel like they know me.”

Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steven Todd makes a delivery for Volunteer DL, which he helped start earlier this spring. (Tribune File Photo)
Detroit Lakes Police Chief Steven Todd makes a delivery for Volunteer DL, which he helped start earlier this spring. (Tribune File Photo)

At first, Volunteer DL was intended for essentials only. But as the weeks wore on and people became more lonely or wanted to celebrate special events, the program began to accept other sorts of requests.

“We delivered birthday cakes, Blizzards from Dairy Queen, cupcakes, special treats that people were craving or liked to have,” Pridday said. “We did special requests, and my volunteers loved doing that. We didn’t feel like it was an imposition. And honestly, I feel like it was essential during a time like this.”

Pridday praised the volunteers for going above and beyond. Many of them went out of their way to do something special for the clients, she said, such as using their own money to buy flowers that they’d deliver along with the orders.

Though her time with Volunteer DL is winding down now, she’s made her mark on the program. As of May 19, 438 requests for service had been fulfilled (since March 18). Pridday made 180 volunteer dispatches to cover those requests with volunteers completing multiple assignments at once whenever possible.

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