Katrina. Ike. Irene.
Now we can add Sandy to the list of recent storms that have devastated sections of the U.S.
Each one has challenged communities and tested supermarkets, as they became focal points of local efforts to rebound.
As a New Jersey resident, I had an unusually close-up view of Sandy’s impact. My neighborhood, while not destroyed like much of coastal New Jersey, lost power and heat for days as trees and power lines fell. Gas was rationed, Halloween postponed, and temperatures and spirits plunged.
One of the few bright spots was the lift provided by local supermarkets, such as a ShopRite in nearby Clark. When I arrived there a day after the storm, I found not only fully stocked shelves, but also caring associates. An in-store cafe fostered community as a warm place to sit, have a sandwich, use mobile devices, watch TV news reports, and chat with others.
My colleague Carol Angrisani wrote a blog post about a similar experience at a Waldbaum’s in Long Island, New York. There were plenty of other examples across the region of supermarket associates who went beyond the call of duty, even walking miles to get to work, and of managers who pulled out all the stops to keep things operating.
Some supermarkets in the multi-state region hit by Sandy couldn’t resume operations as quickly, but on the whole food retailers succeeded against enormous challenges.
Of course, the roles of these operators began prior to the storm, as consumers converged to stock up and managers resorted to proven strategies, including the use of refrigerated trailers powered by generators to maintain perishable products. Retailers also employed newer tools, such as social media posts to communicate updates to consumers.
Read more: Whole Foods Still Feeling Sandy's Impact
The food industry has already begun the next phases of helping with the recovery. Consider that Ralphs and Food 4 Less, West Coast-based units of Kroger that operate far from Sandy’s destructive path, launched a drive for customer donations to the American Red Cross for relief efforts. This is a reminder of the outpouring of food retailer efforts after the Katrina disaster, including donations of tens of millions of dollars in financial support and supplies.
It’s yet another reminder of the supermarket’s central role in neighborhoods. Life might be reduced to less than the basics, but supermarkets are there, with food, warmth, support and community.
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