Target, Dollar General, grocery chains offer ‘elderly hours’ for those vulnerable to coronavirus

College student matches shoppers with seniors who can’t go to stores amid coronavirus outbreak

Many grocery stores around the world, including American-based Target and Dollar General, are offering exclusive early shopping hours for the elderly and those vulnerable to COVID-19.

For some of the most vulnerable of our population, a crowded grocery store causes more panic than joining the throngs of “panic buyers.”

Rebecca Mehra of Bend, Oregon, took to Twitter to share her experience of buying groceries for a terrified elderly couple.

“They are in their 80’s and hear that the novel coronavirus is affecting older people disproportionately...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,” Mehra wrote.

With more than 500,000 likes and counting, Mehra hopes her viral story inspires others to help.

“I know it’s a time of hysteria and nerves, but offer to help anyone you can. Not everyone has people to turn to,” she said.

»RELATED: Some store shelves quickly empty, but experts say it's short term

With early shopping hours just for senior citizens, grocery stores help to create a safer and calmer shopping experience.

American retail giant Target will offer the first opening hour on Wednesdays, starting March 18, just for vulnerable guests such as those with underlying health concerns and the elderly.

In the United States, Dollar General is offering the first hour after opening to senior customers, according to Newsweek.

"During these unprecedented times, Dollar General is diligently working to meet the ongoing needs of our customers and communities. We are proud to live our mission and provide customers with everyday low prices on the household essentials that are used and replenished most often." — Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos

Regional and local chains have elected to operate on similar policies, including Stop & Shop, which has more than 400 stores in the Northeast.

A chain named Iceland in Northern Ireland was featured on Today FOOD for holding a seniors-only hour from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., when the store was cleanest and most fully stocked just after opening.

Manager Danny Burke described the atmosphere in the grocery store during the last few days as “carnage.”

“Busy would be an understatement...[Senior hours] will just give them a bit of quiet time to get what they need and get home before it all sort of kicks off,” he said.

»PHOTOS: The coronavirus in metro Atlanta

Popular Australian chain Woolworths has also set aside 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. as an exclusive shopping time for elderly and disabled customers.

"The move has been prompted by the unprecedented demand in supermarkets over the past week, which has seen many elderly and vulnerable people in the community missing out on vital items they may need when they shop," the company said in an announcement on its website on March 16.

According to CNN, many grocery stores have taken other precautions during the pandemic.

"Most large US grocery chains are offering customers online pickup and delivery services to help limit shoppers' contact with other people. Many are also closing earlier to give employees more time to restock shelves and to clean and disinfect stores." —David Williams, CNN

»MORE: Panic-buying a natural reaction to uncertainty, behavioral experts say

World-renowned chef José Andrés has encouraged more American chains to alter their hours for the elderly as well.

Andrés recently closed his restaurant locations in Washington, D.C., transforming some into community kitchens.

"Not for enjoyment....but a service for people in need of a plate of food during this emergency," he wrote on Twitter. "We are in an unprecedented emergency...and as painful as it is, ALL restaurants, bars, etc. must be closed across America if we are to avoid what's happening in other countries. This is the only way. In this moment, loving each other means staying away from each other."


»Click here to get the new AJC Mobile App