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Supermarkets Make Shopping Easier For More Vulnerable Patrons


No matter how much people try to stay home, they do have a few places to go, including the grocery store. During peak hours in this country, some stores have been too crowded for social distancing, and now some stores want to make shopping safer for the most vulnerable. They are reserving the first business hour of the day for older adults and people with disabilities. NPR's Ina Jaffe, who covers aging, takes us to a supermarket in Los Angeles.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: The sun hadn't been up long when 70-year-old Kathy Owen (ph) emerged from Vons supermarket with her modest haul. And she was happy to have it.

KATHY OWEN: Because I haven't been able to get anything in the last week.

JAFFE: But now, thanks to those seniors-only hours, she scored - mostly.

OWEN: There's no meat. There's - I got eggs today, though. That was new. There's no flour. There's no - I got toilet paper and paper towels, got some weird brand of cooking oil, tried not to take too much so somebody else can get some.

JAFFE: Since older adults are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, the senior-only hours let them do their shopping before the stores get crowded and social distancing becomes more difficult. Also, they can shop newly restocked shelves to prevent them from returning again and again in hopes of finding something left that they can use. But for 75-year-old Ray Singh (ph), it's not just about the shopping.

RAY SINGH: I can't stay in the house. I have to get out.

JAFFE: He shops almost every day. All he picked up this morning - air freshener, toilet paper and chips. But he was enjoying the scene.

SINGH: It's not bad. It's moving very nicely. It's no rush, so nobody's bumping you - or no trouble, no fights (laughter).

JAFFE: Yet even with special hours set aside for older adults, frequent shopping is not a great idea, says Bettina Fries, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook University in Southampton, N.Y.

BETTINA FRIES: Ideally, if you can avoid it, you don't go to the store at all and you have somebody pick up groceries for you. But not all people can do that.

JAFFE: And if older adults are going to go out, seniors-only hours are a great idea, says Fries.

FRIES: They have the advantage that they will go to a store and the store will be less crowded, and so they will be at less risk. I think that that's a very positive movement.

JAFFE: There was a second line on this morning at Vons of younger people waiting their turn. Serj Khajadourian (ph) and Brenda Garcia (ph) didn't mind at all.

BRENDA GARCIA: If my parents were seniors, I would want that as well, yeah, for their safety.

SERJ KHAJADOURIAN: Treat your elders with respect.

GARCIA: Exactly. Some people are forgetting that.

JAFFE: But not here at the supermarket early in the morning.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."