How to improve shopping for the elderly during a pandemic

"Senior hours" and volunteer shoppers are helping decrease risk during the coronavirus pandemic.

Stores and good-hearted citizens across the globe are getting creative in an effort to improve grocery shopping for the elderly and people with disabilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Stores are establishing times when only seniors or people with disabilities can enter. Meanwhile, volunteers across the country are stepping up to help seniors stock up on much-needed food and housing supplies.

The goal of these efforts is to give seniors the chance to complete their shopping without exposing them to the crowds of people panic-buying supplies in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Shopping for the Elderly

The public’s hoarding of toilet paper and hand sanitizer in response to the coronavirus pandemic has reached meme-status, but those are far from the only items currently in short supply.

With shoppers quick to pounce upon whatever goods make their way onto shelves, grocery stores have found themselves repeatedly wiped clean of everything from food to bottled water.

“The measure will help them obtain the essential items they need most.”

Claire Peters

This demand for goods has made the experience of visiting the grocery store particularly precarious for seniors and people with disabilities.

Firstly, those populations are more likely to have mobility issues preventing them from being able to visit numerous stores on the hunt for essential items.

Secondly, elderly people are at high-risk of dying if they catch the coronavirus — and being packed into a store full of shoppers is only going to increase their chances of being infected.

Fighting the Coronavirus Pandemic

To improve shopping for the elderly and people with disabilities during the coronavirus pandemic, Australian supermarket chain Woolworths announced on March 16 that it was establishing store hours during which those vulnerable populations would be the only people allowed in its stores.

“While we’ll continue to do our very best to restock our stores during this period of unprecedented demand, we know many of our elderly customers have been missing out on essential items when they shop,” Woolworths Managing Director Claire Peters said in a news release.

“This temporary measure will give them, and those with a disability, the opportunity to shop before our stores officially open,” she continued, “helping them obtain the essential items they need most in a less crowded environment.”

Soon after, a number of other stores announced their own plans to establish temporary hours in the hopes of improving shopping for the elderly and people with disabilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Those included the Coles grocery chain in Australia and an Iceland Foods location in Ireland, as well as the United States’s Dollar General and Stop & Shop. At least one Wal-Mart in Ohio is temporarily opening early for seniors, too.

Lessons Learned from Day One

Many of the stores kicked off their new hours on March 17, and for the company that seemingly started the trend, the launch didn’t exactly go off without a hitch.

Across Australia, long lines of people formed outside Woolworths stores hours before they opened their doors — and when many entered, they didn’t find much more on shelves than they had during the stores’ regular shopping hours.

Still, according to Peters, the company doesn’t plan to give up on its goal of improving shopping for the elderly and people with disabilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s day one of our dedicated shopping hour and we know it wasn’t perfect across all of our stores,” she said in a statement, adding that the company will “continue to operate the dedicated hour for the rest of the week — taking on the lessons of the day and getting better along the way.”

Shopping Angels

Even if extended store hours don’t solve seniors’ shopping woes, other citizens are ready to lend a hand — like Jayde Powell, a pre-med student at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Powell has launched Shopping Angels, a program that pairs elderly people and those with compromised immune systems with volunteers who can do their shopping.

“We’re doing this to try and reach out to people who might feel that they are completely alone.”

Jayde Powell

Once the volunteers have the supplies, they deliver the goods right to the person’s doorstep — making sure to wear protective masks and gloves during the whole process to limit the chances of exposing anyone to the coronavirus.

Powell started her program with 20 volunteers from her medical fraternity, but word about it quickly spread. Soon, she had people from as far away as Connecticut and New York offering to be “shopping angels.”

Those who can’t volunteer their time to Shopping Angels can help out by contributing to the GoFundMe page that Powell established to raise money to pay for essentials for people in need.

“We’re doing this to try and reach out to people who might feel that they are just completely alone in this situation,” Powell told CNN, later adding, “If you cannot afford toilet paper or something like that, you’re still to reach out to us.”

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