Those who can’t afford to stock up lose out on some basic necessities

Working families often suffer a double penalty, say shoppers in East and South LA


Shelves remain empty for hours at many stores in South Los Angeles. (Catherine Valdez/UT)

Denae Ayala

Catherine Valdez and Denae Ayala, Community News Reporters

By now, shoppers are well aware of the empty shelves and lines out the door.

What is less expected during this time of the coronavirus pandemic is that basic necessities for their babies are sold out, people can’t practice “social distancing” because they’re squeezed tightly together at some crowded markets, and some stores are closing up shop in the middle of the day to restock shelves.

“My shopping experience was bad: There weren’t any shopping carts so I had to carry whatever I found and the line to pay was ridiculous. I was in line for about two hours. Plus, the stores were really packed: You could hardly walk by,” said Esmeralda Quintero, a grocery store customer in South L.A. Quintero said she was not able to find baby formula and diapers for her kids.

The very things that could protect people from the virus are sold out — almost everywhere.

“There’s a lot of customers coming in and asking for medication, hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes, a lot of water, toilet paper too. We actually have run out of disinfecting wipes and anything that has to do with hand sanitizing,” said Azucena Castaneda, a Target employee.

Part of the problem is that some people are stocking up with more than they need, leaving many without any of the needed supplies.

Meanwhile, elected officials such as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti are trying to reassure people that there is no food shortage and they don’t have to rush to the store. “I know a lot of Angelenos are feeling anxious about these uncertain and difficult times but rest assured our markets will remain open and well-stocked,” Garcetti said in a Facebook post.

“I feel like people are being dramatic and taking things way out of proportion. It’s OK to grab what you need and a few for back up but not the way people are buying; They aren’t considering that older people are being left without anything or…parents who really need wipes for our kids are being left without anything,” said Cristina Salgado, a customer in South LA. She added that a bit of thoughtfulness would go a long way: “Get what you need and leave some for everyone else.”

Similarly, Sabrina Renteria, who was shopping at the Smart & Final store in Montebello, said that people should take precautions but also remain calm and think about others: “Some people are inconsiderate and just take however much they want even though there’s certain people that really do need it. The stores end up being empty because everybody is ‘panic buying.’” 

Due to the high demand of products such as toilet paper, napkins, water, diapers, feminine pads, hand sanitizers and certain cleaning supplies, some stores have limited the amount of items a family can buy. In a statement posted on March 10, Walmart said “we have also authorized our store managers to manage their inventory, including the discretion to limit sales quantities on items that are in usually high demand.”

Customers are only allowed to get up to two items per category and are allowed to mix and match those items. These rules also apply to online shoppers. 

Smart & Final stores are limiting the sale of many of the same products and others such as latex gloves, soups, canned goods, milk, eggs, meat and chicken. “Everything is limited,” Enrique Perez, the store manager, said recently. 

The limits are intended to help regulate people from wiping out the shelves. “The high demand on these products makes it difficult for retailers to keep up with the orders. They’ve been bringing it in little by little. They’re not notifying us when they are bringing it and how much they are bringing in,” said the store’s assistant manager AnnaMarie Garcia.

She added that customers have been calling to see when the store will have the products available, but there’s not much she can tell them: “It’s hard to even tell them to go ahead and come in because by the time they come in, the product is wiped out. It’s been very tough on our store.”  

Walgreens in South L.A. has a plan in place to reduce congestion. “We had a line form to the back of the store and each person [could buy] a limited amount of two of each [item] until we ran out of the products — because if we were to put them out on the shelves, it was going to be chaos and fights,” said Hugo Jauregui, a Walgreens employee.

Haydee Lopez, a mother of three, is thankful for the limits: “There’s a lot of people who don’t have the income to purchase in bulk. What about their families?…We go to take what we need and sadly there’s not much.” 

This story is a collaboration between La Nota Dorada and Community News, or the JOUR 3910 University Times class.