Grocery store shelves across our state are empty due to stockpiling and panic-buying. Many grocers are responding by making special accommodations for the elderly, immunocompromised, and others at high risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Large chains including Walmart, Target, Albertsons and Smith's have instituted special shopping hours reserved for those vulnerable populations.
"We are sensitive to the fact that everyone wants to make sure they have the items they need, and we also know that everyone wants their neighbors to stay safe and healthy, too," Albertsons President and CEO Vivek Sankaran said in a press release. "We are asking our customers to respect these special hours for those who are most at risk in our communities."
Most Albertsons and Safeway stores in Wyoming will reserve Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. for "vulnerable shoppers," though customers should call to confirm with individual stores.
Some locally-owned grocery stores have taken similar action. Hines General Store in Fort Washakie announced on Monday that only elders would be permitted to shop from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. each day.
Other stores have gone one step further. Mr. D's Food Center stores in Powell and Lander are offering free local delivery of grocery orders priced $50 or more, and will deliver cheaper loads for a $5 fee. Owner Michelle Motherway, who has a compromised immune system herself, said the two stores have quietly offered limited delivery services for several years.
"But we really started pushing it and advertising it right around the time I went into isolation myself," Motherway said.
Even with special hours set aside, she said shopping at a grocery store isn't safe for the elderly and others at high risk for COVID-19.
"I don't want you in Mr. D's [if you're at risk]. I want you to call me on the phone, and I want to deliver your groceries to you," Motherway said. "The safest thing for our vulnerable population that is for them to really just stay at home."
Individuals across Wyoming are also stepping up to help vulnerable people stay isolated. Stephanie Haaukaas, an employee at Hines General Store, said she offered her help after seeing many older people risking exposure by shopping during her shifts.
"It kind of made me think, there's people out there that probably don't have family members that could just say, 'Hey, I'll run to the store for you,'" Haaukaas said.
She posted an open invitation on a popular Fremont County Facebook group to shop or run errands for any elders in need.
Meanwhile, grocery stores are setting purchase limits on products from toilet paper to gallons of milk, and urging customers not to hoard food and supplies.
"What our warehouses are telling us right now is that they are expecting [shortages] to go on," Motherway said. "Demand is so high right now for some of these products. We're demanding more from our suppliers, they're demanding more from their suppliers. It's this trickle-up effect, and products just aren't available to us."
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