COVID-19: Shopping safely, with helping hands
(Note: a list of shopping resources is at the end of this article)
As social distancing continues and the fear of catching COVID-19 increases, even going to the supermarket feels daunting.
A meme shared on Facebook and Twitter shows Katniss (played by Jennifer Lawrence) in the movie “The Hunger Games” giving her salute, with the words “Heading out for groceries.”
The supermarket can feel like a mad battle to get to supplies before they are taken; it’s also a place that can make you fear you’re taking your life into your hands.
But local supermarkets have started making accommodation for the immuno-compromised, the vulnerable and the elderly.
And they play a big role when people start asking how they can help their neighbors, which is now happening more and more.
HOW CAN I HELP?
Montclair chef Abraham Dickerson, of ABE Foods, has been buying food for the senior home First Montclair House for the past two weeks. Seniors there have their own kitchens, and though there has been communal dining at times, that’s out for the duration.
“They are looking to stop seniors from going out of the building,” Dickerson said. “It’s just a matter of time before there’s an outbreak.”
He’s also been shopping for a 73-year-old neighbor. Delivery services are projecting a delay of several weeks, he said. “I take precautions. I have gloves on. I don’t interact with the seniors at all, though they want to,” he said. The seniors feel sure they will be quarantined at some point.
Over the next week Dickerson intends to begin providing food to the Montclair Police Department and to nurses, working with Chef James Desisto Laboratorio Kitchen and another restaurant that declined to be named. Beginning today, they will offer meals to first responders on Mondays for free, and on Thursdays, 50 free meals to the public, beginning at 2 p.m.
If you shop for others, Dickerson said, be patient, and expect to visit several stores, not just those in Montclair. His shopping trips, which he makes every other day, can take hours.
Photographer Neil Grabowsky of Roseland (who contributes to Montclair Local) just began shopping for a Caldwell neighbor. One member of the family tested positive and was in Mountainside hospital. The entire family is now stuck inside.
Monday, March 23, was his first day shopping for them. Grabowsky first visited a Costco in Wayne that was eerily deserted. There were cops, but no traffic outside. There was no toilet paper or Purell, but otherwise, the shelves were stocked, he said.
Gov. Phil Murphy has repeatedly told New Jerseyans not to hoard, and that shelves would be replenished. New Jersey, he said, is full of warehouses.
Many people asking for help ask for just a few things: produce, meat, milk — but that could change as people stay in longer.
Second Ward Councilwoman Robin Schlager went on the Facebook group Share Montclair to offer to shop for seniors. A generous friend offered to pick up the tab, and she’s heard from four people so far.
“People don’t want to overstep, or be greedy,” Schlager said. “One family asked to find formula for a baby. That’s hard to come by. Having grown children, I hadn’t thought about that.” The situation at the stores was better than she expected, but “it’s hard to watch the news,” she added.
Aminah Toler shops for her 92-year-old great-grandmother and her friends. “They are very proud, from the South,” Toler said. Their local grocer is four blocks from their senior center, but Toler does not want them to go out.
“I went to the bakery and got some cookies and pastries so they can have some sweet treats. I don’t want them to feel compelled to get dressed, with petticoats, lipstick and high heels, and get on the bus. I’ll try again Thursday,” she said. She went to a Stop & Shop in Bloomfield, and saw that by 5 p.m. it seemed to be empty.
Amy South, owner of the (now closed for social distancing) plant shop Moss & More, has been shopping for a friend in her 80s. “She’s all alone, in the Bell Street apartments. She hasn’t left the house in weeks,” South said.
Like Toler, she added some cookies to the shopping order. “I dropped the groceries at her door and left. She had tears in her eyes,” she said.
For those who need more than a few things, who would not like to ask a neighbor to pick up a whole list, another option has popped up: paid shoppers. Instacart, Peapod, Fresh Direct and other delivery services do charge for delivery, and the items are more expensive than they are in the stores — if they are there at all, said Christopher Moccia, of South Orange. Moccia was working full-time until last Monday, and while he’s temporarily laid off he decided to offer his services as a way to make a little money adn help people out. His prices are negotiable, depending on the complexity and time demands of the job. Unlike web deliveries, most of which are backed up at least a week and a half, Moccia can deliver on the same day. “I’ve picked up prescriptions, coffee from a local coffee shop for an older couple, anything people need from outside the home.” Like Grabowsky, Moccia has been impressed at how seriously supermarkets are taking the situation: “The Shop-Rite in Millburn has blue squares taped on the floor, for where to stand in line, and announcements encouraging people to maintain social distance, and bleaching frequently.
Local churches and synagogues are still figuring out how to do outreach to the community. Bnai Keshet as of this past Monday said it’s had no requests yet, but will strategize to match volunteers and those who need help. As of Friday, volunteers for St. Cassian’s outnumbered those asking for supplies, but that is expected to change. Shomrei Emunah and Temple Ner Tamid report that they are setting up phone trees, so everyone can check on everyone. One of the questions asked by Temple Ner Tamid is, “Do you need supplies?”
The phone trees may be particularly important for some of the elderly who are not on Facebook and such sites as Nextdoor Montclair. Individuals on Share Montclair, Secret Montclair and Nextdoor Montclair have all been offering to help.
The Human Needs Food Pantry is delivering 230 meals a week to senior citizens, said Executive Director Mike Bruno. Volunteers drop the meals off on the front porch. ARC of Essex County, which usually helps with the deliveries, cannot send vans due to a staff shortage, and Human Needs has seen a sharp decrease in volunteers: down to about five, from 80.
Anne Mernin of Toni’s Kitchen said that they expect to deliver food bags to several hundred seniors. The Kiwanis Club of Montclair is helping with deliveries and posted pictures on its Facebook page of members making deliveries.
WHAT’S IN THE SHOPS?
Montclairites and people in neighboring towns have been sharing their shopping experiences online, on Facebook and on Nextdoor. A woman on Nextdoor writes that a ShopRite in West Orange was restocking while she was there. “Foodtown yesterday wasn’t too bad,” another writes.
People post specific questions about who has milk, eggs, chopped meat and frozen vegetables. One person wrote that he had found everything except paper products at Whole Foods.
People are sharing recipes to make hand sanitizer and disinfectants.
Chef Dickerson said that shops were out of frozen vegetables.
Many supermarkets have extended their hours to allow for disinfecting and restocking, and have added special times in the morning for the elderly and vulnerable to shop. The supermarkets are also all hiring.
Dana Ward, communication and public affairs manager of Acme, said that the store is rationing items to one per person. “You might not get your favorite brand. We have to bring in what we can get,” Ward said. From 7 to 9 a.m., the store is open only to seniors and those who are compromised or vulnerable; the store now stays open until 10 p.m. “As long as we’re allowed to operate, we will operate,” she said.
Whole Foods opens for seniors one hour before its regular hours. The store is open until 8 p.m., but a notice on the website announces that Whole Foods may close up to two hours early to allow adequate time for restocking and sanitizing.
Speaking for Whole Foods, Casey Warnick said that the stores are very busy, but they are working hard to keep items stocked. Unlike Acme, their shopping time for the elderly is for those 60+ only, not for those immuno-compromised, pregnant or for someone shopping for the elderly.
After the L.A. Times and others reported that Whole Foods was not offering sick leave to its employees but asking other employees to donate their own time, Whole Foods changed its policy. A spokesperson for Amazon.com, Whole Foods’ parent company, said in a release that Amazon is now matching funds to the Whole Foods Fund, and that all Whole Foods team members have access to the two weeks of paid time off related to COVID-19 that was announced for Amazon employees.
Kings reserves the hour of 7-8 a.m. for seniors and the immuno-compromised, and is hiring. They are also closing at 8 p.m., to give the team time to restock and sanitize, said Kimberly Yorio, a Kings spokesperson.
“We’re a community store. Families have shopped with us for years and years,” Yorio said. Kings was a family business for its first 80 years, but has not been family-owned for the past 16.
“We’re trying to serve as many people in the communities as possible,” Yorio said. “Our associates are heroes, working ungodly hours in a very stressful situation. One customer bought a $10 gift card for every cashier.”
Because Kings is a smaller chain than either Acme or Whole Foods, with 25 shops to Acme’s 164 (all on the East Coast) and Whole Foods’ 500 (internationally), it has been able to maneuver, Yorio said.
“Our merchant team has done a heroic job of finding new sources for products,” she said. “A lot of places that would sell to restaurants only are now selling to us.” A larger chain often has strict procurement policies, she added.
Meat, eggs, milk and pasta go fast. However, Yorio said, “there hasn’t been a run on the bakery the way there has been on the meat case. Maybe now people might make a run on muffins. I know I personally might. A lot of people are home with kids.”
The volume and pattern of shopping have changed, she said last week. People who came once a week were now coming more often to check on stock.
That, however, may change, as people stay in more and more.
While some Kings delivered groceries after a shopper had purchased them in-store, that policy has ended. Kings continues to use Instacart for deliveries.
Members of the community continue to update one another daily. Scott E. Moore said yesterday on Facebook that Kings has been “my neighborhood rock.” He also said that while lines at Trader Joe’s were long, Costco in Clifton was organized and well-stocked. “They wipe your cart down for you when you come in,” he wrote.
Moore, like Grabowsky, noticed that there was strong traffic management to keep people from standing too close to one another in line, and to limit the number of people who enter the store at one time.
People are scouring the surrounding towns to shop, and have posted about shopping in Millburn and Chatham. A woman on Moore’s thread posted that Trader Joe’s had done an amazing job keeping carts clean and enforcing rules. Kings in Montclair had everything but toilet paper and Bounty — and Acme had Bounty.
Moore wanted to let the community know: “Be mindful. Don’t hoard!”
He added: “Be cool, be kind — everyone’s doing the best they can, and these market workers are on the front lines themselves, exposing themselves and dealing with rabid and frightened consumers.”
• Robin Schlager:
• Abraham Dickerson:
• Christopher Moccia, paid shopper:
• Nextdoor Montclair: app and website
• Acme Supermarkets
510 Valley Road
• Localacmemarkets.com, 973-746-0058
7 a.m.-10 p.m., pharmacy open until 9 p.m.
7-9 a.m. for seniors and immuno-compromised
Delivery and pickup available
• Whole Foods Montclair
701 Bloomfield Ave.
9 a.m.-8 p.m.
8-9 a.m. for seniors
• Kings Food Markets
650 Valley Road
7 a.m.-8 p.m.
7-8 a.m. for seniors and immuno-compromised
Delivery and pickup available