Grocery store managers say more food is on the way, and they’re asking customers to stop the panic buying and hoarding that has triggered shortages of some items on shelves.
Jackson County Auditor Eric Spivak normally goes over county government operations with a fine-tooth comb to make sure everything is running efficiently. But this week he’s been investigating the mystery of empty grocery store shelves as the nation grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spivak has been contacting local and national retailers to determine the state of the supply of food and other essentials in Jackson County.
He said he’s been assured that both suppliers and stores are working hard to meet the rush in demand triggered by reaction to the pandemic.
“We are asking that everyone be patient and considerate to others and return to normal food and supply-purchasing behavior as the supply chain and retailers are working hard during this critical time,” Spivak said.
Jackson County Roads and Parks Director John Vial isn’t focused on asphalt right now. He’s been tapped to serve as director of the Jackson County Emergency Operations Center that’s now up and running.
He had a more blunt message for grocery hoarders.
“Just calm down. You don’t need to buy a two years’ supply of toilet paper,” Vial said.
Toilet paper has been among the items to go AWOL during the crisis, forcing consumers to get creative in the bathroom.
Some cities have sent out pleas to their sewage customers to stop flushing paper towels, napkins, wet wipes and baby wipes — and even cotton balls and Q-tips — down the toilet.
While toilet paper is designed to break down in the sewage system, other products can cause clogs, equipment damage and interfere with sewage processing.
The city of Brookings on the Oregon Coast has launched a reminder campaign called, “Trash it. Don’t flush it.”
Like Spivak, Vial has been talking to grocery managers of major national chains and local stores. He said the industry is rushing to restock supplies, but goods are selling out fast.
Bob Ames, general manager for Sherm’s Thunderbird Market Inc., shared a letter with customers that outlined what was discovered during the process of gathering information. The company runs Sherm’s Thunderbird Market and Sherm’s Food 4 Less.
“We want to assure our customers that the grocery industry is really stepping it up working overtime on efforts to supply the grocery stores,” Ames said in the letter. “Sherm’s and the other grocers in Southern Oregon are doing everything possible to keep the supplies in our stores.”
Ames said Sherm’s is committed to doing all it can to meet the community’s grocery store needs during this challenging time. He praised the efforts of workers to get items out to customers.
“We have been amazed by what our great staff has done to have groceries available for our customers. Thank you to our staff for the huge efforts this past week. It is just amazing and you deserve the credit for where we are as a company,” he said.
Ames encouraged customers not to panic and to return to their normal shopping patterns. He said over-buying is stressing the supply chain.
Ames noted some stores are putting purchase limits on customers until shopping patterns calm down to manageable levels.
During the time that some specific items are missing from shelves, he encouraged customers to try new products and new meals using other goods that are available.
“We have confidence that the supply chain will continue getting groceries to us. The trucking industry, the produce suppliers, the meat suppliers and the bakeries are all adjusting production capabilities to package and produce high volumes of goods to refill the supply chain,” he said. “There are going to be many challenges, but I do not know of any country with the capabilities that we have with the American workforce. We are seeing tremendous effort by so many companies it really amazes us. Our staff is committed to keeping our shelves stocked.”
On the national front, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue gave a speech Friday saluting the people he said are heroes in the American food supply chain. He praised everyone from seed, feed and fertilizer suppliers to farmers to food factories to truckers to grocery workers busily restocking shelves.
Perdue said Americans are lucky, with many taking an abundant food supply for granted and not considering all the work it takes to keep a nation of more than 330 million people fed day after day. He praised everyone on the front lines of the nation’s food supply chain.
“Thank you so much for what you’re doing,” he said. “And I know these are uncertain times, but I just want to tell you from my heart, as an American citizen, I am so grateful for what you’re doing.”
In response to strong demand for in stores, Walmart announced Friday it plans to hire 150,000 new associates through the end of May.
That will translate into 1,200 new Walmart employees in Oregon working in stores, clubs, distribution centers and fulfillment centers, the company said.
As a reward for their hard work and dedication to serving customers during this health crisis, Walmart said it will pay out more than $365 million in cash bonuses to hourly associates in America on April 2.
Every hourly associate who worked for the company as of March 1 will qualify.
The company is also accelerating a nearly $180 million quarterly bonus payment a month early for associates nationwide.
The company adopted a new COVID-19 emergency leave policy to help workers impacted by the virus.
A union representing Fred Meyer, Safeway, Albertsons and QFC grocery store workers in Oregon and southwest Washington announced Friday it reached an agreement with the grocery chains to better support and protect workers and shoppers during the pandemic.
Among other steps, workers diagnosed with COVID-19 will get up to two weeks of paid time off to self-quarantine before they have to start using sick leave and other paid leave.
With schools closed, the stores will offer more flexible schedules to accommodate childcare responsibilities. The stores will work with state and federal governments to treat grocery store workers as first responders and set up a childcare fund.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture announced Friday farmers, ranchers, food processors, farmworkers, truckers and service suppliers have all been identified as essential services at the state and national level.
Currently, essential businesses will not be impacted by any orders to close. They are strongly encouraged to use social distancing strategies.
“The governor recognizes Oregon’s food production system as an essential function and is working hard to minimize disruptions. Each business has to independently assess themselves, be creative and innovative, and implement social distancing protocols that help reduce exposure,” the Oregon Department of Agriculture said.
To help potentially help all categories of workers, state and federal lawmakers are considering changes to unemployment benefits to improve coverage.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.