All I needed was beans and tampons. Then, coronavirus hit

Laura Diaz / el Don

The grocery stores in Santa Ana were just as chaotic yesterday as I feared. Imagine a mix of famine-stricken countries with long lines of people hoping to get a ration mixed with the frenzy of a Black Friday at Walmart.

Unfortunately, my mother and I had agreed earlier in the week to go shopping on Saturday. Not panic shopping, either. We just needed to restock on some essentials, plus some bottled water and feminine products. But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Here’s how it went:

Aldi

Not too busy at first glance, but only six shopping carts left. A large sticker outside the entrance announced: “WE HOLD THE RIGHT TO LIMIT QUANTITIES.” A woman carried out two full packages of Stella Rosa wine and a stuffed canvas bag.  Aldi usually offers complimentary wipes for the cart handles, but they were all out of wipes. Families waited at the cash register lines with carts filled with groceries; snacks, sodas, canned foods and milk gallons. I didn’t have time to take full inventory of the store, especially since it was a challenge to navigate past all the carts, but I did notice that the most depleted items were bread, paper towels, and wine. We got a few things we needed, waited in line, watched long stretches of food items pass by on the conveyor belt, and left.

Laura Diaz / el Don

Big Lots

We went here looking for bottled water and found none. Outside was a handwritten sign announcing that paper towels and toilet paper were out of stock. The water bottles were supposed to be to the left upon entering, but the aisles were mostly emptied, leaving only tall individual bottles behind. From the cleaning product section, a man walked out of it holding about six rolls of Bounty towels under his arms. Only a few rolls remained on the shelves, partially covered by a handwritten sign announcing that toilet paper was out of stock. It was obvious we weren’t going to succeed in Big Lots, so we left

Food 4 Less

Food 4 Less was perhaps the worst store we’d visited yet. The parking lot was fully occupied, leaving drivers to fight for open spaces. As we sought our own parking space, I saw cars filled to the top. Pressed against the window of one car was a large package of toilet paper. Shoppers crowded the entrance, so we didn’t bother with a cart this time. My mother gave up on bottled water. She only needed beans, chicken, bread — and I needed tampons. I didn’t think the store had been hit so bad until I arrived at the produce section, and for the first time in my life, saw the bottom of the pinto bean crates.

The egg cartons were nearly gone. Any canned or pre-bagged beans were gone. The toilet paper and paper towel aisles were wiped clean.

I split momentarily from my mom to search for tampons, and that’s when I noticed the lines. Food 4 Less is usually a busy store with wait times averaging to five or ten minutes at most. But these lines reached all the into the food aisles themselves, and the one going into the tampon lane was the longest.

I guess I didn’t need tampons that bad. I returned to my mom and pointed in the direction of the line. She didn’t need convincing either. Defeatedly, she set down all the items she had picked up. We weren’t that desperate for groceries. We were hungry and tired and frustrated with the world.

Beans and tampons could wait.

Bottom of the bulk pinto bean bin at Food 4 Less. Laura Diaz / el Don

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