Which California stores are offering senior hours, other coronavirus shopping help?

The most vulnerable among us have faced the hardest time stocking up on food and supplies since the coronavirus outbreak began.

People over the age of 65 and with compromised immune systems, the most at-risk groups for severe and possibly fatal infection from COVID-19, were advised by Gov. Gavin Newsom to begin self isolating at the start of this week. Now a statewide “stay at home” order has been issued for all residents, allowing only for essential trips and travel. But that still leaves a lot of older folks at a loss of how to get groceries, medicine and more.

Regional and national grocery and big-box stores have responded with a variety of efforts all aimed at allowing the elderly and immunocompromised to shop their stores with less risk. That includes creating special senior shopping hours and offering pre-made essential supply kits at a reduced price.

Still, seniors and the at-risk should be advised that outings such as these can still be dangerous, and many of the shopping hours are voluntary and not being monitored. Delivery or asking an able-bodied person with fewer risk factors to shop for you is still the safest option.

Here’s a look at which stores are helping seniors with special programs because of coronavirus. All programs are active now, except where noted.

Big Lots: All of the national discount chain’s stores have reserved the first hour of each day for senior citizens and “those most vulnerable to this virus.” Other shoppers are being asked to respect the senior shopping hour. Big Lots stores are open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Costco: The national retailer announced special weekly hours for seniors and those with disabilities starting March 24. Those over the age of 60 and other at-risk people will have from 8 to 9 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday to shop. The store said only members who meet those criteria will be allowed in during that time.

Dollar General: The chain of discount stores began a senior store hour, the first hour of business each day, to allow seniors and other at-risk customers time to shop. Others are “strongly encouraged” to plan their shopping accordingly. Stores are also closing an hour early to allow for restocking. Store hours vary, so call or check online at www.dollargeneral.com for your closest location.

Cardenas Markets: The western states Latino grocery chain will open an hour early each day for “seniors & first responders” to shop before the general public. The special shopping window is open to senior citizens, their caretakers, people requiring a extra time and first responders. The special shopping hour will be 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., with its general public hours from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Safeway: The grocery chain has reserved from open until 9 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday each week for “the most at-risk members of the community” who have been ordered to shelter in place to buy supplies. This includes the elderly, immunocompromised and pregnant women. The Modesto Safeway opens at 6 a.m.

Raley’s: The supermarket chain is offering those 65 or older Senior Essential Bags with pre-selected bags of grocery essentials at a discounted price starting Saturday, March 21. The bags can be picked up in-store or curbside, and friends of caregivers will be allowed to purchase them for the elderly. There are two bag options, a $20 bag with staples including fruits and vegetables, canned soup, pasta and sauce, beans, peanut butter and canned tuna, and a $35 bag with ready-to-eat meals which can be heated at home with entrees and salads. Bags will be available first-come, first-serve and given out one per family.

Save Mart & FoodMaxx: The Central Valley grocery chains, owned by the same parent company, announced that it will have senior and at-risk shopping hours. From 6 to 9 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday will be reserved for higher risk populations to shop. Other shoppers are asked to stay away to allow seniors and and vulnerable populations, including pregnant women and the immunocompromised, access to the store during those times.

Smart & Final: The grocery chain is offering a half-hour window starting at 7:30 a.m. before the store opens to the general public to allow “seniors and other at-risk populations” to shop. That includes those age 65 or older, customers with disabilities and pregnant women. People should be prepared to show ID to enter during the reserved shopping time. Normal store hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

Target: The national chain has reserved the first hour of shopping each Wednesday to “support vulnerable guests,” which includes the elderly and those with underlying health concerns. The senior shopping hour is from 8 to 9 a.m. Wednesdays. The stores have also reduced their daily hours, closing by 9 p.m. daily in order to restock and deep clean the premise.

Walmart: The national chain is offering a one-hour window before stores open to the general public once a week for customers aged 60 and older starting March 24. The senior shopping hour will be from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. every Tuesday. Store hours have been reduced for the general public to allow stocking and cleaning. The new store hours are 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily.

La Perla Tapatia: The Central Valley-based Latino grocery chain is reserving the first hour of shopping each day to customers age 65 and up and those with disabilities. From 7 to 8 a.m. will be reserved for people in those groups and stores are asking other customers to stay away during those times.

So if you’re a senior, and you have to go shopping for yourself, these are your best bets. But if you are not a senior or do not have an underlying health issue, for goodness sake stay home during these times. This is for their safety and yours. Please, don’t be that person.

And, for everyone pulling their hair out trying to find diapers and eggs, the empty shelves we are seeing in stores for the most part are being driven by panic buying and stockpiling and not any shortages in our food or supply chain — which remains robust. Warehouses are still shipping, trucks are still rolling, hard-working grocery and big box employees are still stocking the shelves.

There is enough to go around if we act responsibly and only purchase enough to get us through these tumultuous times. Even in countries in stringent lockdowns, like Italy, grocery stores remain open and stocked. Breathe. We can get through it if we think about of our families and our neighbors — particularly our elderly neighbors.

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