Pandemic Philanthropy: Local Investor Buys Groceries for 400

Photo by Jess Benjamin.

Customers shopping at the Somerville Market Basket during the hours set aside for seniors and those with compromised immune systems got a surprise last Friday and Saturday when Collin Yip picked up the tab for all their groceries.

While he wished to remain anonymous at first, his good deed was confirmed by Kristin Phelan, spokeswoman for the Somernova startup incubator, one of Yip’s real estate projects in the city. 

Phelan says that Yip was looking for a way to “pay it forward” during the pandemic and felt that Easter and Passover holidays were a time when many people would really benefit from having their groceries paid for. It wasn’t something he put a lot of advance planning into, she says. She doesn’t know the total of the amount Yip spent buying the groceries, but he paid for about 400 people. 

“Typically people on Easter and Passover are with their families, and that was obviously something that was not able to happen this year, and this was a great time and opportunity for him to give them this surprise,” says Phelan.

A manager who was working on Market Basket those days told Scout that in his 15 years at the store he’d never seen anyone do this for their customers. He describes the customers’ reactions as “ecstatic, they couldn’t believe it.”

“What a gesture, especially with everything going on,” the manager adds.

Somerville resident Debra Alderman says she was one of the many people for whom Yip bought groceries. Alderman is an essential worker, as she is employed at an assistant living facility.

She says her groceries totaled at $138 and Yip provided her with two $50 gift cards.

“I felt like God was lifting my spirits and thanking me,” Alderman says of her Market Basket surprise.

So, does Yip plan to do something like this again?

“I would say yes, the answer is yes, it will happen again,” says Phelan. “I’m not sure what it will be, but it’s something we’re excited about.”

Yip is the Managing Director of Rafi, a private equity firm focused on venture capital and real estate. Rafi acquired Somernova, formerly known as the Ames Safety Envelope, in April 2018. Aeronaut, Artisan’s Asylum, Brooklyn Boulders, Greentown Labs, Tasting Counter & Form Energy are just a few of the leading innovators part of the eclectic tenant mix at Somernova. He says his goal is to further enhance “the vitality of the entrepreneurship ecosystem” within the city of Somerville.

Lilly Milman also contributed to this report. This story has been updated to include a quote from Debra Alderman.

To read more of Scout Somerville‘s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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