Tips for Getting Groceries for Older Adults and Other At-Risk People During COVID-19

Tips for Getting Groceries for Older Adults and Other At-Risk People During COVID-19
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

The novel coronavirus has turned daily life upside-down and shaken up the entire world. For many of us, grocery shopping has become the perfect example of what was once a routine, dependable errand. Now, grocery shopping is an ever-changing challenge, with each batch of groceries a feat in itself.

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So far, COVID-19 appears to be hitting hard at older adults, people who are immunocompromised, and individuals with underlying conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. For these individuals who may be staying at home and avoiding stores, grocery shopping can be difficult or impossible.

Do you know an elderly neighbor or friend, or any other neighbors or friends who are at high risk for serious cases of COVID-19? These are some reasons why you may want to help them get groceries.

  • It is the right thing to do.
  • Helping others can cheer you up – science says so!
  • You will be enhancing the effectiveness of social distancing measures by allowing more people – the ones you are helping – to stay home.

These are some tips for helping out one or more people by making sure they have enough food and other essentials.

Shop in stores or online

The best option is the one that works best for you and the recipient. These are possibilities.

  • Go to stores and shop for them while you are doing your shopping.
  • Help them order groceries through an online delivery service or directly through a store that delivers groceries.
  • Order groceries for them when you are ordering your own groceries online.

Get a list

Asking the recipient for a list lets them be involved in their own shopping and it lets them request the specific foods they want. Plus, it relieves you of the burden of needing to try to figure out their normal eating habits to try to get the right products for them.

Use common sense

When you ask what they need or if they need anything, and if the answer is, “No, thanks,” or, “I don’t need anything,” a little digging may be necessary. Maybe someone else is already helping them out, so they truly do not need your help right now. On the other hand, maybe they are trying not to be a bother to you, and a little persistence on your part may lead to the truth: that they need you. They may even refuse at first because they are afraid of catching COVID-19 from you, but that does not appear to be a high risk if you follow precautions.

Scanning their list quickly, you might want to check for some or all of the following items.

  • Bread.
  • Rice, pasta, or potatoes.
  • Fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables.
  • Dairy products and eggs.
  • Cereal or oats.
  • Nuts.
  • Peanut butter, tuna, cheese, and other sandwich fillings.
  • Snack foods.

Stock up

In addition to buying their weekly fresh items you can also help them stock up on enough foods and essentials to get through a possible 2-week quarantine should they get sick. Items can include canned and dried goods, toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, and medications, for example.

Be accepting

It can be a compassionate act for you to keep in mind that the person you are helping probably prefers to be independent and not to tell you their entire list. Letting your own values dictate your response to their requests can make them feel bad and worse, and may even prevent them from allowing you to help them. 

These are some examples of possible judgements that could unintentionally be made without being careful.

  • “It’s unhealthy.” For example, they ask for hot dogs and white buns when you know lean ground turkey and whole-grain buns are healthier.
  • “It’s unethical.” For example, they ask for chicken when you believe eating animal products is wrong.
  • “Other brands are better.” For example, your preferred brand is cheaper, more convenient, or tastier than theirs.

Until you establish some trust, it may be best to keep your judgements away from the process.

Stay safe at the store

Keeping yourself safe is the best way to be able to continue to help others. Guidelines for lowering risk while at supermarkets include wearing a mask and gloves. Stores may also have rules for distancing while standing in line and for going in certain directions in various aisles.

Use contactless delivery

Safety is a natural concern at this time, but giving food to others does not appear to be a problem, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), when safety measures are taken[1

These are some tips.

  • Contactless delivery can happen if you leave the groceries on the doorstep or porch and then leave.
  • The recipient can pick up the groceries after you leave, wearing a glove if she feels threatened.
  • She can wash fruits and vegetables as usual.

Ask about food preparation

Some people may need help preparing the food if they are unable to do some themselves. They may normally have a helper, but are entirely on their own now. You can help by dropping off ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat dishes that can last for a while. Chili, stew, soup, and pasta dishes are some examples.

Offer to help them use delivery services

Online grocery delivery services have some advantages.

  • Fewer people are in the stores and spreading the virus.
  • You may get more of a selection if your service includes multiple stores.
  • You can save time and reduce aggravation by not going shopping yourself.

Some folks may have no interest in trying online delivery services, while others may just need a push and some help getting started. If the person you are trying to help is tech-savvy, you may be able to get them set up and walk them through their first purchase over the phone. Another option is to do their shopping using your online account.

We are all in this together, but some people need more help than others. If you are in a position to do so, making sure one or more of your at-risk friends or neighbors have groceries is a worthwhile cause and one that rewards you, too.