At 5:51 Tuesday morning there were about seven people waiting for the doors to open. They weren’t standing in line. A line might make it difficult to maintain a 6-foot gap between each person. Instead, they spread out around the front of Foodland Farms Aina Haina, mindful of keeping their distance.

By 5:54 that number had grown to 12, and when the glass doors slid open exactly at 6, about 30 people made their way into the store.

Foodland, like many grocery store chains around the country, instituted special shopping hours for people over age 60 to give the segment of the community most vulnerable to COVID-19 a chance to gather food and supplies in a less crowded store. When the new Kupuna Shopping Hour was instituted Thursday, cashiers said there were close to 200 people outside the door anxious to come in and see what was left. Things have changed since then. It’s not so panicky. In fact, it’s quite calm.

The shoppers were dressed in “kupuna casual” attire: windbreakers, jean shorts, baseball caps, capri pants. Several wore masks, two wore gloves. Some didn’t quite look older than 60, but it’s hard to tell and no one was carded at the door.

“Feedback from kupuna and others in the community has been very positive,” said Sheryl Toda, senior director of marketing and corporate communications at the Sullivan Family of Companies, which owns Foodland. All Foodland stores in Hawaii are now offering the Kupuna Hour from 6 to 7 a.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. “Kupuna are appre­- ciative of the opportunity to shop before others. Our other customers have been understanding and support this.”

Demand for items like toilet paper, rice and hand sanitizer is still high, and often these items are bought up almost as soon as shelves are restocked. For some products, like eggs, there is a limit to the number of items a customer can buy, but there’s still Spam on the shelves and meat in the meat department and lots of spaghetti sauce. Foodland is also working with local farmers to bring in more of their products.

Meanwhile, the cashiers are there early, talking story with the regulars from a safe distance and spraying down their counters every chance they get.

“We’re so proud of our employees and their genuine desire to serve our community at this challenging time,” Toda said. “They understand what an important resource our stores are for customers, and are working hard to serve with aloha and take care of everyone’s needs.”

I parked outside the store and watched for a while. Nobody came out with a grocery cart overloaded with stuff. In fact, most carried out just one reusable shopping bag. This is not the hoarder set. Or maybe we’ve passed into the next phase of this emergency, when people have most of what they need and are just shopping for a few things. One lady came out with a single loaf of Japanese-style bread. One man came out carrying rice, beer and a bottle of Listerine. It was like that: neighborly, practical, not panicky. There have been anecdotes on social media of bad behavior in grocery stores, but that was not the case here. A delivery truck rolled into the parking lot, and the driver got out and started loading his cart as though with a sense of purpose. He was bringing bread. He was bringing a sense of normalcy.


Reach Lee Cataluna at 529-4315 or lcataluna@staradvertiser.com.