With cases of COVID-19 in Warren County up to at least nine Friday, Indianola residents are finding new ways to get groceries, in some cases drawing on help from grocers and friends to stay out of the grocery stores altogether.
Indianola Hy-Vee manager Nate Fehl said the store’s Aisles Online, which allows customers to place orders online and pick up their groceries later, was being used about 200 times a week prior to COVID-19.
But since the virus has become widespread, that has jumped to 200 per day.
“That’s as much as we can do,” he said. “If we opened it up to 300, we’d probably get 300.”
The store also handles shopping and porch delivery on Tuesdays for seniors, handicapped and other shut-in populations, he said, but that service is maxed out as well.
In the meantime, Kelly Shaw, Indianola mayor, said he has a list of more than 20 residents who are willing to go to the store for more vulnerable residents.
Cory Bloom of Indianola started the effort when he texted Shaw to say he was now working from home and if people needed help, he would happily pitch in, said Shaw.
“He was the first on the list, I was second,” he said.
So far, only one person has asked for help, but that’s likely to change said Jodene DeVault, Warren County public health nurse. Her office is scaling back its shopping efforts, she said.
“It’s a good thing,” she said about Shaw’s effort. “They have to take precautions, they have to maintain social, distances, but if we have young people who are healthy and they want to help out the senior citizens, that’s a good thing.”
Shaw said he wanted to help people like his parents.
“My parents are at the Village, they’re fragile,” he said. “The last thing I want is for them to go through Wal-Mart, Hy-Vee or Fareway and get infected. This is something I can do myself. It will drop into the hands of citizens and hopefully we can keep up with it.”
People who need help with their shopping can either call the public health office at 961-1074 or Shaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-961-5044.
While Wal-Mart also offers online ordering and pickup, Emily Toibio, a spokesperson for Fareway, said their stores don’t yet offer the service, but are working on it. She said some stores are working with local partners to have them shop for friends and neighbors.
All grocery stores in Indianola have changed policies and procedures to keep both employees and customers safe during the pandemic.
Wal-Mart’s corporate communication social media announced that beginning Saturday it would limit the number of people in the store at any time. Customers in Indianola can enter only from the grocery entrance and when the store reaches capacity, customers are admitted on a one-in, one-out basis.
Stores also will be going to a one-way movement through the aisles over the next week, according to a social media post by corporate Wal-Mart’s executive vice president and chief operating office.
That’s a step Hy-Vee also is taking, in addition to taking every employee’s temperature when they come to work and providing masks for employees who want them, said Fehl. Plexiglass now shields cashiers and the pharmacy in Indianola, along with the customer service department, are all shrouded in plastic.
Almost all stores have adopted new hours, allowing senior citizens and members of vulnerable populations to shop early and then closing early — Fareway at 7 p.m., Hy-Vee at 8 p.m., and Wal-Mart at 8:30 p.m. — to allow for heavy cleaning.
“We’ve asked people to leave their reusable bags at home to mitigate things being carried into the store,” said Fareway’s Toibio, and in some cases, she said, they’re limiting the quantity customers can buy of certain items.
“Toilet paper is still one of them,” she said.
That shortage is slowly improving, said Fehl.
“Each truck we’re starting to see a few extra cases,” he said. Paper towels are “starting to come back,”he said. As for toilet paper?
“It will still be a while.”