Dual BA Students Create Grocery Delivery Service to Assist Menton's Elderly During the Pandemic
Weeks before most of the world found itself under lockdown, students on Sciences Po’s Menton Campus, including the campus’ 20-plus Dual BA students, had already begun to feel the effects of COVID-19 spreading across the world. A small French city nestled between Italy and Monaco, Menton is known for its beaches and gardens, but also its elderly population. Its proximity to the Italian border caused students to worry about the effects of the virus on their small town weeks before the rest of the world had become aware of the crisis that awaited them. Many students passed through Italy en route back to Menton after winter break and had already been self-isolating for two weeks before French President Emmanuel Macron announced the indefinite closure of universities across the country. “We knew that the time we were living through was the ‘calm before the storm,’” said Dual BA student Nolwenn Ménard ‘23GS.
Though there were less than 100 cases in France at the time, Dual BA student Joseph Moussa ‘23GS was conscious of the fact that Menton was particularly at risk. He knew creative solutions had to be found early to lessen the impact of the virus on the city. “I told myself that during this unprecedented time of crisis, people would be willing to help and people would be in need of help, so all that was needed was a platform to link both,” explained Moussa.
“We knew that the time we were living through was the ‘calm before the storm.’”
He started brainstorming ideas and got in touch with three other students: fellow Dual BA student Ménard; and two other Sciences Po students, Mathilde de Solages and Tommaso Campomagnani. Moussa believed that their diverse backgrounds and personalities would allow them to come up with a sustainable solution: Moussa is Lebanese but grew up in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Ménard is Franco-American and grew up in the United States, de Solages is French but lived abroad as an expatriate, and Campomagnani is Italian and lived in the Canary Islands.
Finding a Durable Solution
According to Ménard, by the time the group had begun to meet, the Mentonese population had already started to panic and stock up on essential items. And so, Menton Livraison was born. Menton Livraison, or “Menton Delivery,” is a free home delivery service for seniors and anyone in the city who is in need. Customers can call a hotline anytime between 8 a.m. and noon, or order online. Items are delivered by volunteers to customers’ doors, allowing them to minimize time outside their homes and exposure to the virus. “We knew that there needed to be a durable solution to shopping for groceries which did not include going to the store and emptying shelves,” said Ménard.
Once they developed the idea, Moussa, Ménard, and their co-founders, had to find a way to bring the idea to life. On the verge of important local elections, the group found it difficult to get in touch with town officials. “The political context in France—we were just weeks before the Mayor was up for reelection—made the menace of an epidemic seem secondary and trivial,” explained Ménard. Though this demoralized the team, Moussa’s persistence and ambition kept them going. Once President Macron announced a stay-at-home order, officials from the Mayor’s Office called the students back. Despite some initial challenges due to their young age, the Menton Livraison team secured a strong partnership with the local government the initiative was successfully registered as an association and planning for the launch began at full speed.
“I felt that it was a game of back-and-forths and it was hard for me, as an 18-year-old, to convince the local officials to set up such an ambitious platform that could guarantee a free delivery in 3 hours to anyone that needed it, at a time when the future was so uncertain and everyone was scrambling to adapt to the evolving situation,” explained Moussa.
Navigating the Unexpected
By the time the project had taken off, three members of the team had to leave Menton after the State of Emergency was announced: de Solages and Menard headed to Cassis, a small Mediterranean town, and Campomagnani returned to Tenerife. Separated, and each self-isolating in their homes, they had to adapt to working on the project from home. The weeks leading to the launch were filled with hundreds of phone calls, emails, and text messages. While they took care of administrative tasks such as recruiting volunteers, dealing with legal paperwork, communicating with local press, and developing a code of conduct for volunteers in compliance with health standards, Moussa (who stayed in Menton) took care of all the work that needed to be done in-person. “As Menton Livraison took off, it was Joseph, who was the only one of us to stay in Menton, who really took the association on his shoulders and it has increasingly been the case since then. The purpose of Menton Livraison means that, contrary to virtually all other activities in those times, being on the ground is absolutely essential,” said Campomagnani. To assist Moussa with deliveries, the team recruited over 40 volunteers, composed both of Sciences Po students and Menton residents who were crucial to the functioning of Menton Livraison. The team also reached out to local partners to grow their inventory, including Carrefour City, UExpress, and other local vendors.
"I definitely plan on being more proactive and engaged in establishing and spearheading other projects and initiatives. Who knows? "New York Livraison" kind of has a nice ring to it, don't you think?”
After weeks of hard work and preparation, Menton Livraison was finally made available to the public. Campomagnani, who was in charge of the association’s social media presence, said that Facebook had played an essential role in establishing the association and reaching more of the local community. Between March 26 and May 12, 723 deliveries were carried out. “It was very humbling to see so many people from so many different walks of life come together to work on one common goal, that is to help the community. Each of them brought their own experience and expertise and contributed to the development of the service so that it could become more efficient and better serve the beneficiaries. They were able, through their collective compassion and innovation, to continuously shape it into the service it is today. The beneficiaries that Menton Livraison was able to help and assist were so grateful, even sending us bottles, cakes, and letters,” said Moussa. After seeing the success of the project, Moussa re-structured the service in order to improve their offerings. Now, there are over 200 products available, including new sections such as “Pharmacy,” “Fish products,” “Delicatessen,” and more.
One of the most important positive outcomes of the project, according to the Menton Livraison team, is the fact that it brought them closer to the local population of the town. “The work I did with the association showed me another side of Menton. As Sciences Po students, we stay in our bubble, rarely reaching out to the other inhabitants of the town. Menton Livraison proves that the association of Sciences Po and Menton works beautifully, through the commitment that volunteers have demonstrated over the past few months. We are an insignificant part of a town which is greater than us, but we have the potential to make a difference within it.” Menard said.
Learning Through Local Civic Engagement
Working on Menton Livraison also taught the students the importance of civic engagement and local community involvement. It encouraged them to continue getting involved with similar projects and tapping into the long-term, structural community needs that the Covid-19 crisis brought to life, like the need to provide an accessible grocery delivery service for the elderly population. “Menton Livraison taught me what true civic engagement feels like. Sometimes we get caught up with futile things, short-term objectives that divert us from the environment we live in and its needs. I will always remember the gratitude of those helped by Menton Livraison.” said Ménard. “I personally learned that, way too often, we assume that the status quo is the best option out there and we are discouraged from reaching out and trying to change it.” echoed Mousa.
Pleased by the strong connections he made with the local government, volunteers, and partners, Moussa hopes to keep the initiative alive, even once the immediate need caused by pandemic is over. On a more personal note, Moussa hopes to continue coming up with creative solutions like this as he continues on in the Dual BA Program in New York.
“While I do not think that this experience will alter my academic leanings, since both economics and law fall within the scope of this experience and are both flexible fields of study, I definitely plan on being more proactive and engaged in establishing and spearheading other projects and initiatives. Who knows? "New York Livraison" kind of has a nice ring to it, don't you think?”