OKEECHOBEE — “Where are all these shoppers coming from?” asked an Okeechobee resident on social media last week. Local stores such as Publix and Walmart seemed to have even more customers than ever.
There are several theories to explain the crowds, even as the federal government was asking people to maintain a “social distance” of at least 6 feet.
• As with hurricane season, people were stocking up on nonperishable food and household supplies.
• Based on the license tags on the cars in the parking lot, it appeared people from the coastal counties drove to Okeechobee to find food and supplies they could not find in their own local stores.
• With kids out of school at least until April 15, parents found they needed more food at home.
• Florida colleges have gone to online classes, so many college students are returning home for the rest of the semester, adding to their families’ household food bills.
• Some people are afraid that stores will soon be closed completely and want to stockpile as much food as they can before that happens.
• Winter residents decided to stock up on food and supplies before they headed north, in case store shelves there are already empty.
• Not finding what they wanted on their first trip to the store, some shoppers came back to the same store more than once during the day, hoping to time it right to be there when a delivery truck arrived.
So, how do you balance the need to buy food and supplies for your family, while limiting visits to the store and maintaining social distance? How do you put aside your own fear that you might not have done enough to provide for your own family and let someone else have the last package of hamburger in the meat case?
A few suggestions:
• If you have enough food and supplies for a month, give someone else a chance. Since a local state of emergency has been declared, the stores have already warned shoppers that they will not refund money for items purchased during this emergency. Buy only what you need.
• If you didn’t need to buy bottled water in January, don’t buy bottled water now. This is not a hurricane. The power companies have assured us they will not turn off the electricity. The water companies have assured us that when you turn on the tap there will be water flowing. If you are on the public water system, you don’t need bottled water. But there are people who do need that bottled water. There are mothers who need pediatric water for their babies. There are people with sleep apnea who need distilled water for their CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines. There are people who are not on the city water system who need bottled water to drink.
• If you do not have a baby, leave the baby supplies for those who do have infants. Baby wipes may be a convenience for adults, but imagine what it is like for the parent of an infant who can’t find any baby wipes to use when they change diapers.
• If you panicked before the stores started rationing paper goods and bought more toilet paper than your family needs, show some compassion and donate some of it to those in need.