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Grocery shopper honored for work to get food to most vulnerable during pandemic

Updated: May. 21, 2021 at 8:19 PM CDT
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BRANDON, Miss. (WLBT) - A Rankin County woman is being honored for going above and beyond to help the most vulnerable get food during the pandemic.

Debra Pena works as a grocery shopper for Instacart, an app for grocery deliveries. She is being recognized as Mississippi’s selection for the overwhelming responses she’s gotten for her work.

“Just to know that I’m helping those people that can’t help themselves. I’m the one that’s blessed,” said Pena.

The award was not just for her choice to cater to mainly the elderly and ill, but because she has given most of her earnings to her church, First United Pentecostal in Brandon and the less fortunate in the community.

“Before I started doing Instacart, I didn’t have an opportunity to do things for the church that I really wanted to do and give like people were giving,” said the professional shopper.

Company officials said she was the selection for the state because of the amount of positive feedback she received from customers she serves in the Jackson-metro area.

“This was something I got started on because of COVID,” said the Pearl resident. “Because when it hit, a lot of people could not get out and get their groceries anymore and I was sitting in the house looking at four walls, and I wanted to be able to help people.”

“She’s almost become a friend of mine,” said Instacart customer Heather Kozak. “She’s just been so kind.” The Brandon resident relies on Pena for her grocery deliveries.

She is caring for her mother-in-law, who has dementia, and home schooling two children.

“It makes it a lot easier having somebody who will bring me my groceries as opposed to having to go out, take my mother-in-law and my children or risk leaving my mother-in-law at home alone which is not really safe for her,” said Kozak.

Jessica Bennett, who attends Pena’s church, works with Instacart and introduced her to the service.

“She has given away her furniture to help those in need, and I would say a lot more of her time and her personal time and love to people,” said Bennett.

Pena has also sung Happy Birthday to her clients, checked on them during the week, bought gifts and made purchases that she added to their requests.

The 62-year-old made more than 700 deliveries since starting last March.

“If we have our health and we are blessed with our health and our strength and we can go out into those homes in those areas that are sick and shut in and make a difference, why not?” asked Pena.

Instacart awarded the generous shopper a year’s worth of free groceries which she has already started giving away to people in the community.

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