Empty shelves are seen Wednesday, March 18, 2020, at Albertsons on Yellowstone Road in Cheyenne. With the spread of the coronavirus, grocers like Albertsons and Walmart have adjusted their service hours to better stock shelves and clean the stores. Courtesy

CHEYENNE – The scenes in Laramie County grocery stores are much different than they were just two weeks ago. With the spread of the coronavirus, grocers like Albertsons and Walmart have adjusted their service hours to better stock shelves and clean the stores.

Still, some residents are having a hard time getting their hands on essentials – milk, diapers and cleaning supplies. But when the residents of Cheyenne have a need, the community steps up to try and meet it.

Stormy Bacon, a stay-at-home mom who has given gallons of milk to people who haven’t been able to buy any, said, “Whenever anything bad happens, you just have to look for the good.”

Grocery stores

In response to increased demand from hoards of people preparing for a quarantine, a number of stores have adjusted their hours and limited the number of specific items each household can purchase.

On Sunday, both Walmart stores in Cheyenne moved to a reduced schedule, opening at 6 a.m. and closing at 11 p.m. King Soopers did the same, now opening at 7 a.m. and closing at 8 p.m.

“This change in service hours will allow our store teams to focus on stocking the fresh, affordable food and essentials that our customers are looking for when they walk in our stores,” King Soopers spokeswoman Jessica Trowbridge said in a news release.

Albertsons and Safeway also cut hours of service, but announced Wednesday that those most at risk – the elderly, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems – will be the only ones allowed to shop from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.

“We thank our customers in advance for their compassion and understanding toward their neighbors and friends, and in helping us maintain this temporary operations guideline,” a news release from the company said.

In order to meet the higher demand, Albertsons and Safeway are hiring “hundreds” of new employees for their stores in the region, ranging from distribution center employees to delivery drivers.

“We are operating in unprecedented times, and the demand for delivery has increased significantly,” communications and public affairs manager Heather Halpape said in an email. “The hiring of additional employees will help us better meet the increased requests for delivery service.”

While the recommendation is to stock up on two weeks worth of supplies, some people have been buying more than is needed. To ensure that people aren’t stockpiling goods unnecessarily, stores like Safeway, Albertsons and Walmart have limited the amount of certain goods, like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, each household can purchase.

According to Halpape, Albertsons and Safeway have a distribution center, milk plant and beverage plant in Denver, which allows them to replenish stores daily.

“We’re asking our customers not to panic shop,” Halpape said. “Our distribution center has plenty of products. It’s just a matter of getting it out to stores and restocked, but it will help if everyone does their part to only buy what they need at this time.”

Meeting the need

While grocery stores across the country are working to provide communities with the products they need, some Laramie County residents have still been unable to buy essentials like cleaning supplies, milk and toilet paper.

But utilizing social media has allowed residents with goods to share with those without. Facebook groups like “Oops... I ran out of...” and “Laramie County Community Shoutout” are being used to connect people with supplies with those who need them.

Linda Williams, owner of the Meaning of Cleaning, has been hand-delivering bottles of commercial grade cleaning supplies to households that couldn’t find any. Using her company’s supplies, Williams said one ounce of her cleaning solution makes a gallon of household disinfectant.

“People are grateful for it,” Williams said. “It’s important to keep things clean and disinfected.”

A number of Meaning of Cleaning clients are elderly and haven’t been able to get to the store, so Williams has been picking up and delivering groceries for them. Stormy Bacon has also been helping out her elderly neighbor, bringing over milk and food when she can.

“My dad was a Depression baby, and he always taught us to keep staples stocked,” Bacon said.

Having bought a couple gallons of milk to freeze, Bacon was ready to lend a hand when she saw someone in need milk on the “Oops... I ran out of...” Facebook page. She put the gallon out on her porch to be picked up by the person that needed it.

“We have extra, so why not help people who don’t,” Bacon said. “We need humanity, not insanity.”

For Ashley Jenkins, who has three kids under the age of 3, the Facebook page was a place to turn to in search of diapers. She checked the stores around town, all of which were out of the diaper sizes she needed, and searched Amazon, which currently has a two-week wait.

“It’s been chaos, pretty much, to find anything,” Jenkins said.

Through the Facebook page, Jenkins was able to arrange a meeting with someone willing to provide some extra diapers at no cost.

“It’s just awesome, and the fact that they’re doing it for free makes it even better,” Jenkins said.

For those with extra supplies who want to help, a Community Collection has been set up by Richard Johnson and Corey Lynn Loghry to help distribute goods to residents and agencies that need them.

Johnson said after talking with more than 20 nonprofits and groups in town, they decided it best to set up one big collection, which will then be distributed to individuals and places like the COMEA House homeless shelter by volunteer delivery drivers.

“We basically find out what they need and collect it ... so that we can keep a constant supply of items going in,” Johnson said.

Currently, the drive is expected to last about two months, but Johnson said they’ll continue to be fluid as needs change. According to Johnson, they’re seeking “everything you see people hoarding,” including canned goods, hand sanitizer, soap and toilet paper.

Those wishing to donate can drop off or ship goods to 700 E. 19th St. They’re also seeking volunteer delivery drivers to help distribute goods.

Those seeking more information on how to donate or volunteer to drive can contact Loghry at Lynnbuyshouses13@gmail.com or 307-421-8296.

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.

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