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Swamped supermarkets hiring temporary workers, closing early for cleaning and restocking
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Swamped supermarkets hiring temporary workers, closing early for cleaning and restocking

Supermarkets across the Region have been swamped after kids have been sent home from school, employees have been told to work remotely and restaurants have been closed to dining in a bid to slow the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak.

Shoppers who are largely hunkered down at home to avoid contagion of the deadly disease have been stockpiling bananas, bread, canned vegetables and toilet paper — lots and lots of toilet paper. Supermarkets are now looking to hire temporary workers to keep up with the breakneck surge in demand, which the Region's largest supermarket chain described as "unprecedented."

Strack & Van Til, which has 20 grocery stores across Northwest Indiana, is offering temporary positions to temporarily displaced restaurant workers, who can text Stracks to 97211 to apply.

Jewel-Osco, which has stores in Munster, Dyer, Crown Point and Chesterton, is looking to hire cashiers, stockers and deli associates for all shifts. The Chicagoland grocery chain said employees can work there "as long as you need" and it will be "flexible with any needs you have at home."

Meijer also is looking to hire seasonal help and reaching out to local businesses with displaced workers. Discount grocer Aldi is hiring for both store and warehouse positions, with 175 openings currently listed in Indiana and 375 in Illinois. 

Aldi is limiting hours at some of its stores to restock and clean.

"Our teams are working diligently to keep our shelves stocked and we are continuing to react to the COVID-19 situation. In the midst of increased demand and challenging supply, we are focused on the products you are likely to want most: water, pantry staples, pre-made meals, cleaning supplies, toilet paper and more," CEO Jason Hart said. "To support as many customers as possible, you may see quantity limits placed on select items. We appreciate your patience as some of these products may be temporarily unavailable in some of our stores."

Strack & Van Til asked customers for patience and understanding as it faced unprecedented demand and worked around the clock to ensure in-demand products kept arriving at its stores. The company apologized in a message to customers if some items were not available, stressing it was doing its best to get them back in stock as soon as possible.

"We continue to work to keep our stores in the best possible condition under these circumstances," CEO Jeff Strack said. "Like all other retailers, we are facing serious supply challenges but have been working around the clock to find solutions to get the products back on our shelf as soon as possible. We sincerely appreciate our customers' patience and understanding during these unprecedented times and most importantly, we are fortunate to have associates and managers who have gone above and beyond to help reinforce why Strack & Van Til is truly the heart of the neighborhood."

Grocery stores across Northwest Indiana and the nation are closing early to restock and clean, and also are dedicated shopping time just to seniors.

Dollar General, the Tennessee-based discount retailer with many locations around the Region, is setting aside its first hour of operations for at-risk seniors who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus, so they can avoid busier, more crowded shopping times. The chain is encouraging younger customers to come in later in the morning so they don't transmit the virus to those who are statistically more likely to die from it.

“In keeping with our mission and our ongoing commitment to serve our communities, we are dedicating the first hour of each day to seniors. We appreciate our customers’ understanding of our decision and request they visit our stores later in the morning to allow at-risk populations the ability to purchase the items they need at affordable prices,” said Todd Vasos, Dollar General’s CEO. “During these unprecedented times, Dollar General is diligently working to meet the ongoing needs of our customers and communities. We are proud to live our mission and provide customers with everyday low prices on the household essentials that are used and replenished most often.”

Dollar General also will close all stores an hour earlier to restock the shelves, clean and give their employees some much-needed rest.

Meijer has been looking to remain open for 24 hours while it continuously cleans, sanitizes and stocks its stores, President and CEO Rick Keyes said.

"I’m so proud of our teams, who are doing their best to keep our stores clean, stocked and orderly, while maintaining a sense of calm and compassion for our customers. I’m also proud of our supply chain, corporate teams and vendor partners, who are working tirelessly behind the scenes to get product flowing and address the needs of our stores and communities," Keyes said. "With all our teams are doing, we can still use more help. We’re hiring additional seasonal team members in each of our stores to meet the demands of the business. We’ve also been reaching out to local businesses affected by closures to help place their staff in positions in our stores until their businesses can reopen."

Meijer is placing purchase limits on some items to restrict the hoarding that has been rampant across Northwest Indiana and the country. It has suspended full-service operations at its meat, seafood and bulk salad stations, instead replacing such items with products in self-serve refrigerated cases.

The Michigan-based chain, whose Region locations include Highland, Merrillville, Portage, Valparaiso and Michigan City, has added more curbside pickup and home delivery times and is asking customers to stay home if they are ill.

"And just as we’re following CDC guidelines, we’re asking our customers to do this too," Keyes said. "Please practice social distancing while shopping in our stores, and as the CDC states, please stay home if you’re not feeling well. By working together in these ways, we can do our part to help prevent the spread of this virus in our communities."

Target is reserving the first hour of shopping every Wednesday for the elderly and those with underlying health concerns. It also will close all stores by 9 p.m. to provide more time for cleaning and restocking.

It's closing all Target Cafés, Pizza Huts, snack bars, beverage bars, Starbucks seating areas and condiment stations to stop the spread of disease. The Minneapolis-based retailer, which has several Region locations, is adding payroll hours to ensure more cleaning, including of checkout lanes and touchscreens every 30 minutes.

Target is covering up to 14 days of quarantine and illness pay for any employees who come down with a confirmed case of COVID-19, partly to ensure they will stay home and not put customers at risk. And it's working with suppliers to fast-track the resupply of high-demand items, such as cleaning products, food, over-the-counter medicine, toilet paper and baby products.

“Families are counting on Target for critical supplies during this challenging time, and we’ll continue to do all that we can to keep our stores open. For weeks, we’ve been responding to the impact of the coronavirus by taking care of our team, rigorously cleaning our stores and helping our guests find the food, medicine and other essentials they need for themselves and their families,” said Target Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell. “As our team continues to adapt to the country’s fast-changing needs, we’re announcing plans to reduce our store hours and offer dedicated shopping hours for vulnerable guests. We’ll also maintain limits on select products and would ask guests to purchase only what they need so there’s enough supply to accommodate this increased demand.”

Gallery: Strack & Van Til Checkout Challenge

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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