ST. PAUL — Former state representative and GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson launched a new nonprofit organization over the weekend that seeks to pair senior citizens with younger Minnesotans willing to run errands for and check in on them.

In a press release Monday, April 6, Johnson's office said the organization is being launched with those at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 in mind. Older adults and those with serious underlying health conditions fall into that category, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Minnesota, hospitalizations and deaths caused by COVID-19 appear to predominantly affect older citizens. The median age of Minnesotans who died from COVID-19 is 86, according to the state Department of Health.

Volunteers younger than 60 are being sought for the program, called NorthStar Neighbor. Once matched with an elderly or otherwise at-risk Minnesotan, volunteers are given "complete ownership of the process and their relationship."

Johnson's office said regular phone calls and conversations are encouraged, and that volunteers can offer to shop on their matches' behalves.

"Minnesotans are generous and caring and we all want to find a way to help someone else right now," Johnson said. "I have no doubt we will see an outpouring of those who want to volunteer — the challenge will be finding those who are isolated and disconnected and need a little companionship or help."

Originally from Detroit Lakes, Johnson currently serves as commissioner for Hennepin County's 7th District. He served in the Minnesota House from 2001 to 2007 and twice ran for governor, losing to incumbent Mark Dayton in 2014 and Tim Walz in 2018.

The program is open to Minnesotans who already have a neighbor in mind that they want to help and to who still need a match. Applications can be submitted online at northstarneighbor.com or by phone at 612-430-8899.