Woman buys groceries for Bakersfield residents in need amid outbreak

Posted at 8:51 AM, Mar 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-30 11:58:57-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Cathleen Colbert is a retired Arvin High School teacher who normally spends her time rescuing dogs. But the coronavirus outbreak has given her a new purpose.

We've all seen it. The coronavirus outbreak has altered the supermarket landscape, making for unimaginable lines and slim pickings on shelves around the world, and Kern County is no different, prompting the creation of the Facebook group "Bakersfield Helping Hands." The group of thousands lends a platform to those who need, or can share. But one person took that a step further.

"It started off small, you know 'I can get you toilet paper, I can get you milk, I can get you peanut butter and jelly,'" said Cathleen Colbert, who became a regular on the group, purchasing and delivering items to people.

Then she started getting specific requests, like one local mom whose premature newborn needed a specific type of formula.

"It took me two days to find a store with that formula in it," Colbert said.

She starts at 5 a.m., hitting multiple stores over an 8 hour period, usually feeling the wear and tear.

"I have bursitis in my left knee and it tends to swell," she said.

When 23ABC met up with her, she wasn't shopping for anyone specific, just stocking up on what she calls "staple items" like bread and cereal.

Once shopping is done, Cathleen's friends Olga and Lorri look for people in the Facebook group who could use the help. Sometimes it's people who reached out directly to Cathleen, others are people who make general requests in the Facebook group. Once the food is found homes, Cathy packs it into her jeep and delivers it.

"Cathy is working at least 12 to 15 hours," said Lorri Michael, who helps Cathleen with networking.

Cathleen is not only giving up her time, she's spent over $2000 out of pocket since the pandemic started. All of the groceries are bought with her own money. Why does she do it?

"The single mother without a car can't, the elderly, medically frail, the infants can't. I can. So I'm going to," she said.

Cathy says she is working within a budget, but she’s received about $1,000 in donations to keep her going.