ITHACA, N.Y.— With thousands of students forced to quarantine at Cornell University as move-in continues, in local hotels and at off-campus residences around Ithaca, two Cornell students have jump-started an effort to make sure the newly-arriving students aren’t stranded without supplies — free of any extra cost. 

Since posting an offer for the service on the Cornell subreddit Saturday, sophomores Isabel Dawson and Hannah Robins have delivered a variety of goods and groceries to 25 fellow students, with Dawson working 12 hours a day for the last three days on the deliveries. Dawson has led the effort, joined by Robins when they realized, while shopping for groceries after Robins’ quarantine ended, that as freshmen last year they would have been lost in a similar situation. 

“I don’t know what I would have done last year,” Robins said. “Even if you’re not in quarantine, to get on a TCAT and come out [to shop], it’s so much effort and especially during these times.”

The pair purchase whatever items have been ordered, send a picture of the receipt to the student who ordered it from Dawson, then the student either pays in cash when Dawson and Robins drop off the order or uses a mobile payment service like Venmo and CashApp to pay them the balance beforehand. 

Trips are being offered to Wegman’s, Target, GreenStar and Walmart. They’re currently not charging for the service, although they are accepting donations, which have been flowing in freely and have allowed the two to pay for enough gas to complete the deliveries. 

Dawson, a native of Ithaca, said the idea sparked when Cornell announced it would no longer be guaranteeing housing for students who would have to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival to Ithaca; namely, students coming from one of the dozens of states listed on the New York travel advisory list. The service is primarily for those quarantining students, but Dawson said they’re also open to providing it for students who simply don’t feel comfortable leaving their residences during the pandemic. They even delivered their first package Tuesday to an Ithaca College student who is staying in town despite the school’s decision to hold class remotely for the fall semester. 

Dawson’s not sure if they will continue the service after Sept. 1, since classes start the next day, but she’s still considering it depending on demand and how the infection spreads after classes begin, which could mean more students being forced to quarantine. Other local groups have begun reaching out to get involved with the effort as well, which would hopefully lessen the load on Dawson and Robins. 

“Every day I get home and think ‘I’m never doing that again,’” Dawson said. “Then the next morning as soon as I wake up I think ‘What’s the first order?’”

Acknowledging the ongoing tension between returning college students and local residents who fear their impact on the pandemic’s spread locally, Dawson said she can see why both sides feel as if they’re being put in a difficult spot. 

“Cornellians were obviously concerned because they are facing two weeks at a hotel without knowing how to get groceries and people in town are obviously concerned because they don’t want random people walking around who are supposed to be in quarantine,” she said. “So I saw both sides of the issue and decided to do something about it.”

Not that Dawson herself isn’t concerned, but the work has taken on a therapeutic, distracting quality, even as she is risking infection by going into stores. 

“It’s kind of funny to say, because I am spending all my time right now out in stores,” Dawson said. “But before I did this, I was pretty much planning on not leaving my house. It  does give me a lot of anxiety, especially being a college student. I don’t really trust other people my age very well [right now]. I am very concerned, and counterintuitively, spending my day out at the store helps me feel better in a weird way.”

Dawson said she feels fairly confident because she’s young and is taking precautions when she ventures out and monitors who she interacts with. Beyond that, the feeling that she’s helping students stay safe and out of the community, thus removing at least some risk from the community, outweighs the fears she does have. 

“It feels good to be doing something that is actually helping besides just sitting inside,” Dawson said. “At the end of the day, the stuff I’m doing feels worth it to me.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com