At the outset of the pandemic in the U.S., 17-year-old Danny Goldberg launched Zoomers To Boomers (ZtoB), a free service in which Zoomers (members of Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2015) deliver food and necessities to immunocompromised and elderly Baby Boomers.
Founded in Santa Barbara, California, Zoomers To Boomers’ operations are straightforward: Boomers order their groceries on the ZtoB website, Zoomers then pick the items up and deliver them to the Boomers’ residences. Boomers can either pay the stores directly or reimburse ZtoB via check.
Generation Z Stepping Up To A Global Challenge
I initially interviewed Danny for Forbes in mid-March. I’ve never published a follow-up interview before, but Danny’s non-profit was so nascent when we first spoke (less than three weeks from launch), I was curious as to see how it has weathered the pandemic. (Note: Danny’s remarks have been lightly edited for brevity and readability.)
John Greathouse: Hey Danny, your story resonated with my readers. At the time we first connected, you were in your third week of operations, yet you had already made tremendous progress. At that time, I believe you were in eight or nine cities and you had made about 1,000 deliveries. How many cities is ZtoB currently operating (in) and how have your other key metrics grown?
Danny Goldberg: Zoomers to Boomers is currently operating in 31 cities, and one international site in Hyderabad, India. We have completed over 4,000 deliveries and (we) have hundreds of volunteers. Our goal is to continue growing and finding new ways to help people at risk.
We recently started working with the Santa Barbara Food Bank to deliver meals. We hope to expand that into a nationwide partnership with other food banks through Feeding America, to help the elderly and immunocompromised who need our support.
We have also been forging ties with state and corporate partners who are backing our movement with their services and volunteers. Zendesk, the customer service software company, has donated their ticketing software so that our organization will be more streamlined and easier to scale. Alaskan Airlines has offered to connect us to their workforce as potential volunteers. Lastly, we are now partnered with the CaliforniansForAll initiative, created by Governor Gavin Newsom and run by his Chief Service Officer, Josh Fryday. This partnership will also help us grow our volunteer base.
Greathouse: You mentioned Hyderabad (India). Have you encountered unique issues associated with international expansion?
Goldberg: Hyderabad is currently our only international site. We initially had some interest from other locations abroad, but these sites ultimately didn’t develop. While ZoomerstoBoomers is happy to help with setting up international sites, our main focus is supporting our elderly and immunocompromised in the U.S.
Greathouse: How many other potential cities have reached out to you regarding launching a service – and what typically motivates a Zoomer to reach out to you to start a new chapter?
Goldberg: We’ve had close to 50 prospective sites; some are in the works, and others were ultimately not created. I believe that the press we’ve been given has helped spread the word about what we do, but the true motivation comes from our branch leaders. Our branch leaders are crucial to our success. They dedicate their time to helping others, and we give them a platform so that they can do so.
Greathouse: You mentioned the importance of press in getting your story out. I was proud that Forbes was the first national publication to pick up your story. Since that time, you’ve received some very flattering and well-deserved press, including (from) Good Morning America. What are some of the other outlets that have told your story and how has public relations driven ZtoB’s growth?
Goldberg: Press and public relations is a huge factor in the rate we’ve been able to grow. The Forbes article provided us with the ability to grow as a non-profit extremely quickly, and as you mentioned, we were also featured in Good Morning America, which gave us another boost in growth. Outside of those articles, we have been featured in the LA Times, ABC News, many local newspapers, and multiple times on the popular website Upworthy. These have all been vital to our expansion and have helped us serve even more people than we would have otherwise.
We have also been working on building a social media presence, with Instagram and Facebook accounts (@ZoomerstoBoomers) to help us reach more of those in need. Our social media is being spearheaded by a member of my Santa Barbara team, Sean McLychok. I also made it a personal goal to try to get us extra exposure and started this by emailing reporters from various news agencies. Soon after, I created a premium LinkedIn account, so that I would be able to message people directly. I also reached out to Governor Newsom’s Chief Service Officer, Josh Fryday. This helped us to partner with Californians For All and expand our reach.
Greathouse: Now that you’ve been operational for about thirteen weeks, have any new challenges emerged, related to the growth and breadth of your operations?
Goldberg: There have been growing pains that my team and I have had to face and work around. One of the current challenges surrounds transferring our operating software from basic Google Drive services (Google Forms, Spreadsheets, etc.) over to Zendesk.
Zendesk graciously reached out and donated their ticketing software to help streamline our deliveries, and our goal is to ultimately use Zendesk for all our U.S. sites and to use their customer engagement software for other facets of ZoomerstoBoomers as we expand our operations.
During our soft launch of the new software in Santa Barbara, we ran into errors that denied access to our volunteers, briefly shutting down our custom deliveries. Blake Lindblad, our VP of Technology, and Jackie Caplan, our VP of Client Services and Communication, and I have been scrambling to fix this with Zendesk over the past week, and thus have had to learn how to keep our customers happy and cared for while dealing with this issue. We have been in contact with our clients, informing them of the software issue, and managing their orders through email until the issue is fully resolved.
Greathouse: Good for Zendesk, especially given all the other issues they are no doubt facing in the pandemic.
When we last spoke, you were in the early stages of seeking grant funding to ensure that you can keep the deliveries free to your clients. You also talked about potentially charging folks who are not a (health) risk for (receiving) deliveries, as a way to offset your costs. What is your latest thinking regarding keeping ZtoB financially viable?
Goldberg: The basic formula for ZoomerstoBoomers is one that I believe is very financially viable. The volunteer base for ZtoB is primarily high school students. Our student board is unpaid and works from home. We have a small Advisory Board of talented professionals who are also committed to helping others. Because of their generosity, our costs are very low – at this point our biggest expenditure is the cost of gasoline for our volunteers.
There is a local company in Santa Barbara called Mission Security & Patrol which has graciously offered to offset the cost of gas for our local volunteer drivers. We would love more targeted donations like this, so that our volunteers can continue making deliveries without incurring any personal costs. Other than this, our primary focus for donations and potential grant funding is to help people who are in need, rather than to pay for overhead. As time goes on, we may explore other ways to generate revenue for ZoomerstoBoomers which can in turn continue to support vulnerable members of the community.
Greathouse: What is the best way for companies or individuals to contact you regarding in-kind or financial donations?
Goldberg: Companies or individuals can donate directly through our site, using the “Donate” button. We are currently under the umbrella of the Santa Barbara Foundation, as a fiscal sponsor, and we hope to get our tax-exempt status soon. If prospective donors have any other questions, they can contact us about donations at: ZtoBSantaBarbara(at)gmail.
Greathouse: I know you’re thinking ahead to ZoomerstoBoomers’s incarnation post-COVID-19. What are your latest thoughts regarding how your organization will continue to add value, once the pandemic is over?
Goldberg: I foresee a need to help the elderly and immunocompromised indefinitely, and my generation can fill this need perfectly.
Even when the pandemic is behind us, high school and college students will continue to look for volunteer and community service opportunities. What makes volunteering with ZoomerstoBoomers very attractive is that volunteer commitments can be flexible, based on the individual student’s schedule – the student can commit to more/fewer hours based on their current school schedule and responsibilities. So, our goal is to continue to grow ZoomerstoBoomers so there are ZtoB opportunities throughout the U.S. for high school and college students to help their neighbors. I’m envisioning ZtoB clubs in high schools and colleges throughout the country.
We plan on continuing focusing on grocery delivery, but also adding other ways to help, such as tech help. We currently have a project in the works called ZoomerChat, which will be a support line for ZtoB customers. Potential customers will have the ability to contact a ZtoB volunteer by phone for help in using the website to order groceries, for help with technology such as Zoom or Facetime to connect with loved ones, or just to chat. One of the really impactful things I’ve learned over the past few months is that for many of our customers, the fear they felt as the pandemic began was magnified by loneliness. There were many nights I would be on the phone, chatting with an elderly customer – they just wanted to talk, and that interaction made them feel better, and more connected to the community.
Greathouse: Wow, that’s great to hear. You’re doing an admirable job of fully understanding your customers’ needs, which clearly go far beyond food deliveries.
I know you’re currently a high school junior, but as you look ahead to college, has ZtoB impacted what you intend to study?
Goldberg: I will be starting my college applications this summer. I’m a strong math/science student, so prior to this experience with ZoomerstoBoomers, I was considering a STEM major or pre-med.
I haven’t narrowed down the list of schools I want to apply to, but my views on what I want to study, and what I’m looking for in a college have changed a little. Over the past few months, I’ve learned so much about starting a business that I now want to explore this more.
So currently, I’m looking at colleges based on what they can teach me – not just about STEM majors which was my initial focus, but also about the business world and entrepreneurship. My parents are both doctors, and I grew up thinking I might also want to pursue a field in medicine. I’ve learned through ZoomerstoBoomers that there are many ways to make a positive impact on those around you — not just through medicine.
Greathouse: Agreed – entrepreneurship can give young people an out-sized opportunity to change the world.
Your story is inspiration on a number of levels, including demonstrating that anyone can make a worldwide impact, irrespective of their age or experiences. Can you share any insights with other teenage Zoomers who have big dreams, but have not yet acted upon them?
Goldberg: I never imagined we’d become such a large organization. I noticed a problem in my community and built a solution for it. I quickly learned, however, that this was much larger than a local problem. This began our outward growth, and the journey to where we are now. For others with big dreams, start small.