Ricardo Figueroa, 31, isn’t a family member or caretaker or even a neighbor. He’s a paid companion who was connected to Mr. Rodger through Papa, a health tech company that provides “grandkids on demand.”
Before the new coronavirus pandemic, the two spent multiple hours together each week — running errands, going to dialysis appointments, or just watching movies. Today, their relationship is restricted to phone calls but they remain close.
The two men are a good match by design. Founded in 2018, Papa pairs older adults with college students and young workers who have common interests and hobbies. Mr. Rodger and Mr. Figueroa are both military veterans who enjoy documentaries, sports and an occasional beer, and they live within a few blocks of each other.
But whereas the 5,000 Papa pals once played card games or worked on memoirs with the seniors they have befriended, today they are FaceTiming or calling each other to discuss a world in disarray.
Some have shifted to running errands, picking up groceries or prescriptions. For these and other tasks, they make between $11 and $14 an hour, not including tips and covered expenses like gas, on a freelance basis. (Papa is currently available in 20 states; the company typically charges clients $20 to $25 an hour.)