THINKING OUT LOUD: How the U.S. Coronavirus Mess Affects Elders (and Everyone Else)

Grocery Shopping While Old During a Pandemic

Wow. There was an overwhelming vote in the reader comments last Friday when I discussed some difficulties of grocery shopping with my twin diseases, cancer and COPD, while wearing a mask, gloves and trying to keep appropriate distance from others in the store aisles.

A sampling from some of you, dear readers:

I have been wondering, Ronnie, if you would be able to have supermarket shopping and pharmacy medications delivered?” ~ Betty Creek
Another vote for delivery, here! Or accepting a volunteer's offer to shop for you.)” ~ Duchesse
I will add my voice to the rest about online shopping, Ronnie, which is truly the safest of all ways to get our groceries.” ~ Karin
And I'll pile on with all those counseling Ronni to have groceries delivered if at all possible.” ~ Salinda Dahl
Grocery delivery is a wonderful thing. You might really like it.” ~ Linda Featheringill
I'm with those who say they may stay forever with online grocery shopping and delivery-to-one's-door.” ~ Katie

To all of those above, along with others I haven't mentioned and anyone else who agrees with them, I stuck a toe in the delivery waters this week.

My supermarket does not deliver. There are others in my general vicinity that do deliver but I don't visit them frequently enough to know their inventory as well as my own market. My son, who lives about an hour's drive south of me, had in the past offered to shop for me but until this week I had declined.

Part of that is habit. Except for six years of marriage and another relationship of four years, I've lived alone all my adult life. I'm accustomed to doing it – whatever “it” is at any given time – myself and comfortable that way. I am uncomfortable with what can seem to me to be asking too much of another.

But this week, after having read your comments several times, I accepted when he offered again. I emailed a shopping list and he will deliver it all to my front door today.

Nevertheless, I also went shopping myself yesterday to pick up some items that are either house brands I like or other stuff I need to see before I buy – tomatoes, for example, avocados, and frozen food which I don't think should be sitting in a car for the hour drive before being stored.

There were the usual issues: shoppers getting way too cozy in the aisles, empty shelves and my difficulty breathing through a mask – COPD makes that hard. But it was a great relief to have so little to carry in from the car.

One reader who commented on that post last week had a different take on grocery shopping that more closely matches my feelings about it:

”I've always enjoyed grocery shopping, a little less so now, and shop during the senior hours,” wrote NatashaM.

“I am visually stimulated. I make my own substitutions. I can be inspired by some terrific looking red peppers. I saw a delicious looking turkey meatloaf at the meat department of one store. Now, it's a regular item. I would've never seen the turkey meatloaf had I not shopped in person.”

I'm with you, NatashaM. Yesterday, I found an obscure brand of hand sanitizer at the market with 80 percent alcohol – the first I've seen of any kind in all the time since lockdowns were instituted.

And the deli counter had a new salad that looked delicious so I bought some of that. It was. Delicious, I mean.

Not to mention that I've been shopping there for nearly a decade and there are two employees who I've gotten to know after all those years and I always enjoy catching up with them for a few minutes.

Not to mention that we see few enough people in person in these days of quarantine and it feels good to be in the presence of others even if we can't see our smiles beneath our masks.

For those reasons, I'll continue to do some shopping myself but thanks to your responses last week, I think letting my son do that for me now and then will become a habit – if he doesn't mind.

Plus, I've gotten an important life lesson out of this. Well, I've always known it, I just haven't practice it much: recalling how good we all feel when we are able to do something nice for another person, and that we should give others that opportunity too when it's appropriate.


Dear Ronnie, Good to know you are making it easier for yourself. I miss shopping and chatting to the check-out girls and the Pharmacist and the girls there too. Take care. xx

It was good to hear that you're going to have some help with getting groceries. I understand how hard it can sometimes be to allow others to help, thinking that it's an inconvenience for them, but it's one of the best ways that people show love and care and it can be difficult to find a way to perform kindnesses for those who are mostly strong and self-sufficient. So this sounds like a good thing you're doing for yourself and your son and his family.

Have a good weekend!

Good morning
I was one suggested shop on line last week. One of daughters makes the same comments she would rather shop on her own, for finding the new and interesting items.

About the hand sanitizer - when I was studying for Biosafety Level II certification, sanitizers were (obviously) a large part of the manual. Alcohol in general is not the first choice for nutralizing viruses, but this virus, due to a lipid-rich outer envelope, is very susceptible to alcohol. However, contact time is key; that's the reason alcohol-based sanitizers aren't pure alcohol. In labs, all the alcohol-based sanitizers are 66% to 70% alcohol; any stronger and they tend to evaporate before the pathgen has been killed. I'm surprised you found one with an 80% alcohol content.

I've allowed the Instacart guy/gal to shop for me. But because the markets are short of some of my favorite items, I have directed the shopper to use their best judgement when substituting. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work out.
House brand tomato soup will never be as good as Campbell's and pasta with the fancy label and price is not the same as good old Ronzoni. But, using this service is all I've got right now and, since we all have to be good little soldiers and bravely forge ahead, I'll just have to be content with what they send me. I wonder what I'll get instead of the chicken cutlets I ordered. Does anybody have a recipe for Ostrich?

I really miss going to the grocery store every week. It was one of my favorite things to do. Love reading labels and talking to others. I've been three times since our lock down started in mid March. The entire feel of shopping has changed. One way aisles, people in masks with very little talking or offers to reach high things on shelves. Empty shelves and rationed stuff. I don't have any health issues other than I'm old, so I will continue to go but every three weeks now until probably 2021 and I will continue to resist label reading since the health guidelines say to only pick up what you intend to buy.

Shopping, walking, doctor appt. changes, have you thought about turning the blog into a book ???? With you, and your journalling etc.

Cathy J. captured what I would have commented. And I agree with you letting others help is a win-win while retaining the liberty to grab the few specific items you need to see and select first hand.

It's a gift to let people help with even the simplest things when they feel so helpless to make things better.

Hurrah for more ease.......some ease anyway........and speaking our needs in a good way. I went into a regular, huge grocery store recently, and after being away for about a month, was amazed by the enormity of choices and pre-fab food. Part of me thought wow, this is thrilling, and another part felt like this is what's wrong with our culture. All the boxes and packages so bright and enticing, reaching out from the shelf, grabbing our eyes. "Pick me, pick me! REDREDRED! Easy and FAST, all for YOU." Still, I'm mainly into curbside pick up these days, though I miss the people calories of shopping. Well, I guess that would be the pre-covid people calories.

Couldn’t your son shop for you at your local market? He probably wouldn’t mind at all. That way you could have your house brands, frozen foods, and other favorites.

I think there might be a market for a Covid-19 cookbook: how to make delightful meals from limited and/or missing ingredients. How to turn that less than satisfactory item into something new and delicious.

Like you, Ronni, I've lived alone for many years and am used to doing everything for myself. I hate asking others to do for me because I then feel guilty for imposing or obligated to return the favor (I'm very introverted and shy). I don't feel the same about grocery delivery because those workers are taking a risk for me. Also, I assume that many might be unemployed otherwise so I tip as generously as I can. After an initial experience with some weird substitutions, I learned to specify No Substitutions or to specify exactly what substitutions would be acceptable. I do miss seeing and chatting with familiar employees at the store, as well as the fun of finding new things to try, etc.

As for ordering frozen foods, Amazon Fresh is sourced locally and frozen foods are delivered in insulated bags. Dumpling workers are self-employed so you can deal with the same person all the time. Mine texts me as she shops, asking questions, sending pictures, suggesting substitutions, reminding me of a possible meat shortage, etc.

For Bruce...

It sounds like you need my recipe for "Ostrich" ...camouflaged of course. ;-)
It is a small incredibly simple and quick microwaved cheese cake. It was in the book that came with my elderly Sharp microwave. Online may reveal it somewhere if you are up for easy 'do-it-yourself' rescues and have an opportunity for delivery of the few ingredients.

Cooking still gives me the 'illusion' I have some power over my situation now...older, needing a walker, isolated, and alone like many here are. A phrase I remember from a Studs Terkel interview in his final days at 90+.....

''The best to hope for as one ages is that “your hope may diminish but your curiosity remains.''

I also miss the smiles and even a short conversation. It is hard for daughter to shop for me as to her one coffee is like another as she doesn't drink coffee. So now I have to perk the last and that is hard to explain to hubby. My solution one day out to cash his check I masked up ran into Walgreen's and grabbed a jar of instant for those times he forgets.

I have noticed my favorite grocery does not have much brand selection online.

Last order the person delivering didn't ring the bell so my groceries sat on the porch heaven knows how long.

Well, our military commissary does not do delivery. Although not required (peer pressure requires) the baggers need to be tipped. Thus far, we bag our own which saves several dollars a week. Heck, I thought the military services were designed to save us money as we aged not cost more. No wonder new recruits are hard to get. We are glad we didn't plan any long trips in our retirement, just fixing up the property. We avoid human contact whenever possible. As my Mom says: "When you've touched one person (physically), you've touched a hundred others!". Delivered groceries certainly avoids that scary physical contact. The less people one has physical contact with the better a person has of getting through this. Isolation is another challenge. B

Agree 100% with everything you said. The "used to doing it all myself", the inspiration from seeing things that you didn't expect to see, the human interaction.

I'd just add one thing - the clearance shelves!

I haven't gotten to the point where I'm ready to give this up to someone else (and am not sure who that even would be), but couldn't agree more - sometimes the nicest thing you can do for someone is to let them do something for you :)

As other have noted, the grocery trip is one of the very last arenas in our lives for visual stimulation AND a little personal choice. We all understand (most of us, anyway) the dire nature of the threat we face, but we remain human. No doubt we'll soldier on, masks and all, as long we can, but there is great pleasure in picking out even mundane items for ourselves. Remember, small shopping trips were one of the very first independent errands we did as kids. No wonder we hate to give it up!

I have found Instacart to be outstanding where I live - most of the big box timeslots tend to be two or three days in the future whereas the Instacart person takes my order and shops it immediately and typically is there at my house with it in under a couple of hours after I order! They let me know if something is not available and will even talk to me on the spot about possible substitutes.

I had never used Instacart before Covid. I am very impressed but it may vary of course by location - we’re a city of about 100K - not huge but not tiny either. Lots of food choices from the restaurants too for delivery but my wallet can’t really do that more than about once a week.

I would rather pay the Instacart person than ask a friend or family to do it for me. Like you Ronnie, I’ve lived alone the majority of my adult life.

Glad you’re accepting some offers of assistance, even if you’ve limited it to your son. Not sure if you’re still driving, but I’ve been pleased with pickup orders so I don’t even have to get out of my car. This may require ordering on the net or over the phone some days in advance — you’d have to experiment. The key for me is anticipation, ordering some time before I’ll need items — making sure I have on hand, always, items I can eat or drink if I’m feeling ill and challenged to get to kitchen though that hasn’t occurred for some time — unless this virus gets me.

I’ve always been self-sufficient when I was single, later married, then as a widow — not wanting to be obligated to others though I offered help to some.
Since this virus I have accepted a younger but middle-aged neighbor’s offer to shop for me when she goes to store, but try to avoid requesting items thought to be in short supply so as to not prevent her from getting what they must need, especially since they unexpectedly began foster parenting a newborn. They insist picking up items for me not a problem so I trustingly take them at their word. I observed long ago, if accepting help it’s so much more pleasant for the person helping to graciously accept and not keep apologizing or giving reasons in effort to justify doing so.

My son has been doing my grocery shopping, which I sincerely appreciate. But I find that I miss doing it myself much more than I ever thought I would. Although he offered to do it, I know that he has to do a lot of shopping to keep two teenaged boys fed, so I feel a bit guilty.

There is also the frustration of so many items not being on the shelves for whatever reason, and I am not good at accepting substitutes for long-used brands. I can understand (but not approve of) the hoarding of toilet paper, paper towels and sanitizer, but I’m damned if I get why dishwasher pellets seem to never be in stock either in the store or on Amazon. Why would people wash dishes more than usual?

Some hard-to-find items my son keeps on a list and picks up if he happens to spot them on one of his shopping trips. He also picks up the Trader Joe items when he is in the store. Otherwise he does the shopping in my usual store after he arrives in my town so I can make my list based on my memory of the store layout. He has a bad habit of tossing in an impulse buy of the sort I would have looked at and rejected—but I admit I eat it anyway. Too much chocolate, but who’s counting these days?

The best thing about having my son do it is getting all the bags carted upstairs to my upside-down kitchen. And, of course, getting to see him. At my insistence, we violate the visiting rules but we observe all the proper distances and stay mostly on the deck. He always reports exactly what he touches so I can sanitize it as soon as he leaves. We used to eat dinner together but that is now in the past and I miss it terribly.

Because I'm still in very good health, grocery shopping can still be done in person. It can be stressful, though, because sometimes you have to stand in line just to get inside the store. But, that is keeping the crowds down.

I like to pick out my own groceries as I rarely shop with a list unless I've completely run out of an item or I need a specific ingredient for a recipe. I'm super picky about fresh produce and definitely want to choose my own.

A number of our stores have those who shop for others and I've seen how they operate. I watched a fella the other day racing through aisles, grabbing stuff and just throwing it in the basket. I wouldn't want him as my personal shopper.

I, also, have always enjoyed grocery shopping - well, shopping in general - meandering through a store, stopping every once in a while to check something out, and sometimes purchasing. However, in relation to requesting help is something I have committed to practicing. My mother was not one to ask for help as she grew older, even with children living close by and who would have loved to help! I won't abuse asking for help, but do think it is okay. As you mentioned, Ronni, maybe we are not giving those who love us the opportunity to feel good!

Hi Ronni.

While 'Fred Meyers isn't my usual store to shop at, the have a great service call Click List, whee you place our order online through their website then drive in to pick it up.

The nice people who have shopped for me brig it out to my car and even load it up.

As I do buy my prescriptions at Freddys, I'm familiar with their goods. Its ray to do..soe days my daughter picks it up for me too.

Another great alternative is Imperfect Foods. They deliver my produce to me twice a month so I now do one big monthly shopping and buy organic produce through Imperfrcg Foods.

I like these two options and in fact have used Click List prior to the pandemic mess.

Glad you're taking good cafe of yourself.


A few thoughts on helping those who shop for you: snap pictures of items you especially want/like and text to your family member/neighbor. This helps them find what you want instead of trying to figure out what you meant when you wrote down 'bacon' or 'canned cat food'. Be as specific as possible in written descriptions of your items. Include the size or weight of the item. (I set aside the empty container or bag and snap my pictures. You can also just write off the info; I have trouble writing so pictures do the trick for me. I have used the picture trick for myself for years as a reminder of items to get.)
If your helper is travelling for a long distance perhaps you could suggest a cooler (and supply one if it is going to be an ongoing service) for the frozen or refrigerated goods; this puts less pressure on him/her to get that ice cream to you before it melts. If you can, organize your list aisle by aisle so the helper isn't running back and forth or wasting lots of time finding your items. (I think you can find a map of your store online) .
I use the pick up service at Kroger for myself as well as my sister-in-law; when I arrive I open the tailgate , the shopper loads the groceries and then once he/she has left, I close the tailgate. I also ask that the paperwork is placed in the back as well. I do not roll down my window. We talk with me in the drivers' seat and he/she at the tailgate.
Hope this helps!

Partly due to a wonky right ankle for 3 years after a stumped toe fall, and partly due to my asthma and now achy left hip, I absolutely abhor having to shop, get it into my car, out of my car and into the house. HATE IT. And my attitude has not improved in the times of COVID.

And I still work a 40+ hour week, and commute time is 2 hours per day on good traffic days.

Where the hell did my stamina go? Well, that's a bit disingenuous because I KNOW what happened - 40 years of desk sitting secretarial work and driving.

Probably work full time until I'm 70 if the creek don't rise. (I am afraid of running out of "comfort cash" that lets me not worry about eating beans 24/7.)

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