Update 3/17: Several stores have taken initiative in helping the elderly shop before stores open, and in some cases even pregnant women and those with special needs. You can always call in to see if your local supermarket is offering these services, but several stores have been spotted doing so, such as:
Northgate Market, Ralphs, Target, Vallarta Supermarket, Smart & Final, Superior Grocers, Dollar General, and Stop & Shop.
I don't need to tell you how swamped grocery stores are in the midst of this national emergency. You've watched the news, you've seen the videos circulating online, and you've certainly gone out to see the madness for yourself.
Fear of the unknown had caused people's survival instincts to kick in, and now there's no toilet paper.
As everyone shops and prepares themselves for the worst, the elderly are most vulnerable in this time, and their usual shopping time has been invaded by hoards of shoppers wiping out store shelves.
Measures should be taken to ensure that those of advanced age have a shot at getting their grocery shopping done, as well.
Over the weekend, Northgate Market in La Habra took a shot at letting 65-year-olds and up go into the store first, giving them a 30-minute head start.
It was a noble effort, and a good starting point, but as someone who has worked in a grocery store with a heavy flow of elderly people, and frequently helped them with their shopping lists, I know that's not enough.
At best, 30-minutes gives them a chance to walk to the household products aisle and grab a roll of toilet paper, and maybe scurry over to the meat department, but definitely not enough time to do any sort of decent shopping.
Monday, Northgate adjusted this effort, not only expanding it to a full hour before official opening, but also expanding past their La Habra location, and doing it at all 41 of its stores, which should be the standard for all stores in these trying times.
In Britain, "Iceland Supermarket" has given the elderly a full hour head start, citing that it gives them a more "comfortable shopping environment," according to Today. So between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., it's prime time for those of advanced age.
At minimum, grocery stores should be letting in the elderly an hour early, if not two.
Also, stores are experiencing record sales, and even hiring like crazy at the moment. Use that abundance of hires, and have them go through the senior shoppers' grocery list. There's a good chance a clerk can run across the store and grab a gallon of milk a lot faster than a 70-year-old shopper with an arthritic knee.
ELDERLY SHOPPING HOURS - AUSTRALIA: Australian supermarkets, led by the Woolworths chain, have reserved 7-8am for elderly and disabled shoppers. That's to protect their health and ensure they aren’t the losers of any panic buying.— Ryan Heath (@PoliticoRyan) March 16, 2020
By now you've probably seen the tweet by Rebecca Mehra, where she said:
"I went to the grocery store this afternoon. As I was walking in I heard a woman yell to me from her car. I walked over and found an elderly woman and her husband. She cracked her window open a bit more, and explained to me nearly in tears that they are afraid to go in the store. Afraid to get sick as they are in their 80’s and hear that the novel coronavirus is affecting older people disproportionately. And that they don’t have family around to help them out. Through the crack in the window she handed me a $100 bill and a grocery list, and asked if I would be willing to buy her groceries.
I bought the groceries and placed them in her trunk, and gave her back the change. She told me she had been sitting in the car for nearly 45 min before I had arrived, waiting to ask the right person for help."
Yes, the story sounds a bit theatrical, and you never really know what's true or not on Twitter, but whether you believe her or not, the viral tweet brought awareness to an issue that was not being talked about at the time, and that's giving the elderly a fighting chance to get their groceries.
I went to the grocery store this afternoon. As I was walking in I heard a woman yell to me from her car. I walked over and found an elderly woman and her husband. She cracked her window open a bit more, and explained to me nearly in tears that they are afraid to go in the store.— Rebecca Mehra (@rebecca_mehra) March 12, 2020
In Southern California, multiple grocery stores have adjusted their hours to give them more time to adapt to the influx of shoppers. Northgate is one of them, and even Ralphs shortened their hours, opening later and closing earlier in an attempt to give its employees more time to stock shelves, clean, and do their usual work before and after the madness.
If all these store hours can be adjusted, surely they can follow Northgate and Iceland's lead, and also have a little bit of empathy for those who can't wrestle away a case of water from you during the regular hours.
We now know that grocery stores will continue to be open in this quarantine period, and supply chains are reportedly in no danger, so hopefully the waves of shoppers will be a little less hectic, and everyone can get their food in less of a panic.
Either way, in a time where it feels like it's every man for himself, maybe we should take a step back and think about those around us who might need some help.