The last thing my family did before going into quarantine at home was to go to the grocery store, of all places, to sell Girl Scout Cookies and fundraise for the Boy Scouts. We meet all kinds of people while fundraising at the grocery store, and this time was no different in that respect. However, there were some noticeable contrasts, as most people were keenly aware that we were facing changes to our everyday lives in response to the pandemic.
In the days prior to running this cookie booth, I joked with friends that we would either do really well with sales or really poorly. People might be looking for cookies right now because the schools had closed the day before. The local universities had closed several days to a week before that. Kids, both school-aged and college-aged, were going to be home for the foreseeable future and families might be looking to lay in some snacks before the Girl Scout Cookie season ended. On the other hand, Girl Scout Cookies in Connecticut are $5 to $6 a box, and people could easily go into the store and buy a package of regular cookies for $2.50 (or less, if you catch a sale). Some people might also be looking to save their pennies because buying 2 weeks of groceries at one time (which we were being advised to do) is a big hit to a household budget.
I Don’t See Panic; I See Preparation
We were only set up for a few minutes when a woman came up to the table. I could see the restrained look of not quite panic, but heightened concern, that I’d come to recognize in many parents in the last few weeks. I assumed she wanted cookies but the worry in her face made me leave off my usual sales pitch and get ready to address what might be an emotional need, rather than a cookie need.
She wanted cookies, of course, so we went through the transaction: which cookies did she want, how much it would cost. I was handling all the money this time, a task we normally let the girls do so that they can practice their customer skills and learn how to make change. The girls were responsible for handing over the cookie boxes. I used hand sanitizer in between every transaction. The girls wore nitrile gloves.
Before she left the table, still radiating a sense of urgency and concern, our customer thanked us for being there that day.
“This is normal,” she said. “And I really need normal right now.”
“Normal” Is Both Under, and Over-Rated
What we were doing was normal. We do it every year, and in fact, we had been selling cookies even the weekend prior (again, even at that time, I handled the money and the girls wore gloves).
Yet it was not a normal morning at the grocery store. I watched a man come out with a cart full of multi-packs of paper towels. A little bit later, he came out again, with another cart full of paper towels. And then, a third time, with a cart full of what looked like bottles of either dish soap or dishwasher detergent. It’s possible he made more trips and I didn’t see him because we were quite busy, in fact, selling cookies.
It was at that point that I asked one of the employees when the store had intended to start limiting purchases. That man alone likely wiped out the paper towel supplies on the shelf: enough supplies for 20 families for a few weeks. She told me that not only were they not doing that yet, but that they were not being permitted to shop for their own needs. Customer needs came first. I talked to her for a few more minutes about her concerns in working during this time, and how she and her co-workers were being exposed but also coping with customers who were not on their best behavior. We thanked them for their work. Which sounded lame even to my own ears, but I’m not sure what else I could have offered her.
“Normal” For People With IBD Isn’t Normal
I keep hand sanitizer in my house, in my car, and on my person at all times. My big bottle of hand sanitizer that I would bring with me to Girl Scout and Boy Scout events for all to use was on the table beside me as we sold cookies that morning. Several people asked me where I’d gotten it. Of course, I’d had this bottle for months. It stays in my car, and when we get in the car after running errands and going to activities, we use it. Every time. My kids know how to hold out their hands for it, as they have since they started walking.
I also had gloves at the table for the girls. I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t use them myself because I am pretty good about not touching my face and I wanted to hold on to as many as I could. People asked me where I bought the gloves, as well. Gloves are another thing I always have at my house. I keep them in my first aid kits (again, I’m a Scout mom). When my kids get the barfing viruses, I wear gloves to clean up after them to avoid getting the barfs myself.
I recognize my own privilege in this. I have the means to have these supplies on hand at all times. I have a safe home with enough space to keep bleach, nitrile gloves, hand sanitizer, soap, toilet paper, paper towels, and canned goods for emergencies.
I was worried for all the people I saw going into the store that day and either coming out with nothing, or coming out with only a few items. That probably meant that they weren’t finding what they needed and they were going to another store to try to find it. I was angry, too. So angry at the few people I saw who were clearly overbuying. Had my children not been with me, I may have tried to talk to them to understand why they needed so many rolls of paper towels. Maybe there was a good reason? Since that day, the stores have put restrictions on certain items.
We Ran Out of Thin Mints
After we sold out of cookies (our sales went well!) I sent my family home (to strip and shower) and I went into the store. I knew I wouldn’t get out again and of course, we needed fresh fruits and vegetables, the same as everyone else. The store was completely picked over. I was glad I already had flour, yeast, and toilet paper at home because those items were not to be found. There were no frozen vegetables. There was no lettuce. I got a few comfort items, like hot dogs and potato chips and chocolate, as well as the other staples we would need for the next few weeks. I knew we were all in for a hard time, emotionally, and I didn’t know yet how everyone would handle the situation.
My mind was on keeping things as normal as possible for my children in the coming weeks, and what I suspected at that time would likely be months. Pizza and french fry night would need to be at home instead of at our favorite pizza place, So, I picked up a frozen pizza or two in addition to apples and bananas.
I kept thinking back to the woman who thanked us for providing a small sense of normalcy for her on that day. I didn’t want to cancel the cookie booth and I’m still conflicted as to whether or not it was a good idea to hold it on that day in such a public place. Yes, we were earning money for our Troop but what I hadn’t taken into my calculation was that we were also providing a service. Smiling girls and Troop moms at the grocery store, selling cookies, making jokes, asking customers about their favorite Girl Scout Cookie or their memories of being a Scout, is the normal that some people needed on that day. As the days in quarantine have stretched into weeks, and will now go into months, families will enjoy the cookies we sold them on that day. They will, hopefully, remember buying them from our little happy group, after we sent them off with our thanks and a sincere wish that they and their families stayed safe through the coming adversity.
Maybe I made the right decision after all.