By Linda Chion Kenney
Grocery stores are hiring, adjusting store hours, increasing product shipments, limiting high-demand purchases and taking preventative cleaning measures to keep stocks shelved and customers safe during the coronavirus outbreak.
“We’re asking customers to shop as they normally would and not stockpile,” said Maria Brous, spokesperson for Publix supermarkets. “We are also looking to hire at least 2,000 associates by the end of March to help serve our stores and warehouse and distribution centers, which in turn will better serve our customers.”
Kaley Shaffer, spokesperson for Southeastern Grocers (SEG), the parent company of Winn-Dixie grocery stores, issued a similar sentiment, noting that through an expedited hiring process, the company aims to “provide jobs to those who have been impacted by the current situation.”
SEG also announced that, to “support the most vulnerable members of our community,” a $250,000 donation was given to Feeding America to support its network of southeastern food banks, including Feeding Tampa Bay.
Due to the health crisis, Publix restricted store hours to 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily in March, with shopping for seniors only from 7 to 8 a.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The special shopping hour for seniors and high-risk customers at Winn-Dixie starts at 8 a.m., Monday through Friday, with stores closing nightly at 9 p.m.
With reports of long lines and short tempers at area stores, company officials noted the need to focus on kind deeds and respect for front-line workers.
“We all (employers, drivers, etc.) honestly are trying our absolute best,” said one Publix worker in a recent Facebook post. “Just be kind and patient, and for the love of everything, stop arguing with everyone.”
In urging shoppers not to stockpile, Brous noted Publix “warehousing and distribution centers are working around the clock to receive products from our suppliers and to ship products to our stores.”
Also, customers are asked “not to arrive early, waiting in line for stores to open, since deliveries are made throughout the day.”
And when shopping for food, Anthony Hucker, SEG president and CEO, said, “Please be kind to one another and take a minute to thank our heroic associates for going above and beyond to serve our customers.”