Grocery stores working to help shoppers during COVID-19 pandemic

As cities across the country are banning gatherings of certain sizes, more and more people are staying home to slow the spread of COVID-19. Local grocery stores are feeling the impact as well with several of them modifying store hours, hiring more people, and also prioritizing how they're assisting senior customers.

On Tuesday afternoon the Travis County Judge said there will be many closings but "critical infrastructure"  like grocery stores and pharmacies will be kept open.

“Grocery stores are already instituting queueing in order to reduce keep social distance so please be patient when you go to the grocery store,” County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said.

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Grocery stores across the U.S. are working overtime to help shoppers as the world pandemic of COVID-19 progresses, especially those who may be more at risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people over the age of 60 are most vulnerable to coronavirus.

“We are asking our customers to allow the first hour that the store is open to be dedicated to our senior customers who may be needing to stock up on household essentials,” Dollar General director of public relations Crystal Ghassemi said.

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On Tuesday Dollar General announced they're not only closing stores one hour earlier to clean and restock shelves they're also asking shoppers to reserve the first hour that they're open for elderly customers or those otherwise most susceptible to the virus. 

"This is to allow them to come inside our stores, purchase the items that they need when we are a little bit less busy and a less crowded shopping environment so they can get home as well," Ghassemi said. "We know that about 75 percent of the American population is within 5 miles of a Dollar General."

Target announced beginning Wednesday, March 18th all stores will close by 9 p.m. to also sanitize and restock. They're also introducing a dedicated shopping hour every Wednesday morning for vulnerable guests.

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Instacart, a shopping delivery app, says this past weekend they saw the highest customer demand in Instacart's history in terms of groceries sold. They say users can place orders for others by entering the zip code of a friend or loved one, select their desired store, fill the cart and check out to give the gift of groceries remotely, and they can leave it at your doorstep.

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Although there aren't current changes to help prioritize senior customers, Judge Eckhardt says we may see adjustments. “We are also likely to see some preferential queuing with grocery stores and other service providers pharmacies for instance in order to set aside more priority populations like our senior citizens.” 

Albertsons which owns Randall’s says it's reserving two hours every Tuesday and Thursday morning for vulnerable shoppers including senior citizens, pregnant women or those with compromised immune systems.

Whole Foods says starting Wednesday all stores in the U.S. and Canada will let customers who are 60 and older shop one hour before opening to the general public. 

As for charities like Meals on Wheels, they serve thousands of Central Texans each day to homebound older adults and people with disabilities.

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“Our focus now is making sure at the very least our clients have two weeks of additional meals should we be forced to suspend operations temporarily,” VP of communications Thad Rosenfeld says.

He says they've suspended new client intake until further notice and volunteer intake. Current seniors are receiving meals each day as well as two weeks’ worth of food.

Rosenfeld says, “we're getting them a surplus of meals, telling them to hold on to them should we be forced to suspend daily meal service we want to make sure these folks don't get left high and dry in case we have to temporarily discontinue our meals service.”   

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Meals on Wheels Central Texas is asking for monetary donations. This will help them continue to provide meals to those in need.

The Central Texas Food Bank says “although things are changing rapidly, one thing is certain: The Food Bank is having to make changes to our operations model and is having to serve more of our neighbors in need.”

“We want to remind everyone that your local food pantries and our mobile food pantries are for our neighbors facing real food insecurity, not just those who may be inconvenienced by a temporary shortage of items at their grocery store. We ask that everyone do their part and be respectful of this," says the food bank. “The best way for the general public to help right now is to go to and donate.”

Central Texas Food Bank adds, “we’re grateful to the support we’re seeing in the community, including HEB, who recently donated a truckload of food to us as part of their statewide pandemic response.”