After the winter storm crippled Texas earlier this week and left millions without power, Houstonians tried desperately to find open grocery stores to replenish their stocks.
Houston Kroger stores have been open intermittently since Tuesday trying to serve customers. Hours in stores have been reduced from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and long lines stretch hundreds of feet from the doors. Despite that, most customers appear to be in an understanding mood Thursday.
“We’re doing okay,” says Ida Knight, an educator in Jersey Village. “I’m just worried about running out of formula for my six-month-old. I knew there was going to be a line and rations. I’m prepared for it. I just hope I can get the formula.”
Supplies are limited at stores. Customers are allowed in only in batches to keep crowding down. Rationing of milk, eggs, water, toilet paper, paper towels, and bread is in effect just as it is at H-E-B stores in the area. With the recent city-wide boil notice, water in particular is in high demand and quickly ran out despite the rationing. The stores are also just now restocking their meat departments, and staples like chicken are hard to come by.
Frozen sections are still filled but are completely blocked off due to loss of power. Grocery stories intend to lobby ERCOT for priority electrical status to prevent future spoilage and shortages. Luckily, dry goods like rice and pasta seem to be well-stocked still, as are pet foods. Some plant-based meat substitutes are still on shelves, so this is as good a time as any to try out an impossible burger. Supplies seem to be meeting demand, which is imperative since most Houston eateries are still closed or serving only limited menus with abbreviated hours.
The work is taking its toll on grocery workers. One, who did not want us to use her name, told us that she had been to work every day for the past ten days to help prepare for the storm as well as manage the store once it re-opened. She was doing this even though her own home was barely habitable thanks to a burst pipe.
“I’m happy to be here helping, but I would kill for a shower right now,” she said.
Stores were also calling in many former employees to help with the load. The chain hopes to be open normal hours in stores with power by the end of this week.
The diligence and dedication of employees is to be commended, especially as the United States enters a new round of debate on possibly raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. By adding a natural catastrophe on top of what is now the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become very clear who the essential workers in the economy are. When this disaster left millions in need, grocery workers have been there for all of us.
Some basic tips for shopping during the crisis
*Lines are longer in the morning, but you are likely to have more options.
*Consider trying to use almond or soy milk, which many stores keep in organic sections unrefrigerated.
*Summer sausages in the deli section or pre-cooked bacon can satisfy meat junkies.
*Shop in order of highest demand, checking rationed items first.
*Just because something isn't rationed doesn't mean that other people don't need it, too. Don't be greedy.
*The human body craves fat when hard freezes occur, so it's okay for you to get cookies and chocolate.
*Do what the people who work there tell you to do and don't argue with them. Seriously, just don't.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.