The demand for grocery delivery services increased 2000% “literally overnight” when shelter-in-place orders went into effect, said Tyler Szura, executive director of AbleCarts, a nonprofit delivery service at both SPD Markets that is operated primarily by people with disabilities.
“It was crazy — we were getting the same number of orders in one day that we were usually getting in a month,” said Szura. “The demand has slowed a bit since the first quarantine announcement, but we’re still doing at least 12 deliveries per day. We split shifts, but we’re working 12 hours a day, five days a week.”
Customers are getting creative when it comes to sharing resources too, he added. For example, neighbors who live remotely are combining their grocery lists into one order so they can cut down on delivery costs.
AbleCarts delivers all over western Nevada County, from Alta Sierra up Highway 20 past the Old 5 Mile House.
Janet Stegman, a driver for DoorDash, says she has been delivering hot meals about 10 hours a day, seven days a week since the sheltering-in-place order.
“I sing opera, I have a law degree and I produce a one-woman YouTube channel, but I could ‘Dash’ all day long,” said Stegman, who lives in Alta Sierra. “Customers are just so nice. But it’s never been crazier — people are sick of cereal and eating food out of a can. They want hot, savory, fresh-cooked food from their favorite restaurants. It’s nurturing — like your mom giving you a big hug.”
Recently, popular DoorDash preferences have been for meals people don’t generally cook at home, said Stegman. Ristorante Alloro, Taste of Thai, India Oven and Maya’s Authentic Mexican Food are among those high on the list.
As is the case with AbleCarts, Stegman said her geographical knowledge of western Nevada County has greatly expanded since the onset of COVID-19. She often finds herself navigating bumpy dirt roads in her hybrid, where GPS is of little help and houses often have no numbers out front.
“Surprisingly, I’ve only had one mishap, but it was a big one,” she said, with a laugh. “I hit a big bump and suddenly I had an Oreo cookie milkshake all over my car. But I’ll bring food to you wherever you are, even if you’re in the parking lot at Kmart.”
Implementing a new delivery service has helped businesses like Grass Valley Games stay afloat, said owner Zak Lewis. Because government assistance programs thus far aren’t designed to help small businesses with only a small handful of employees, Lewis says he and his staff are “definitely on our own to survive this.” He is immensely thankful for his large inventory, he said, because distributors in the game business are shut down, having been deemed “non-essential.”
While online sales have continued to help keep Grass Valley Games afloat, Lewis has developed a Nevada County car delivery service with a “contactless form of doing sales that has been working seamlessly.” Customers pay electronically and the product is dropped on their doorstep. Magic the Gathering and other board games have been in the highest demand, he said.
“I also really just enjoy the deliveries as a way to stay in touch with my customers,” said Lewis. “It reminds them that we’re still here — and will be — once this is all over.”
Taking new precautions
Few are more aware of the health dangers than Lewis, who says he is immunocompromised and considered at very high risk.
“I’m a dialysis patient,” he said. “Every time I leave my house it has been with a respirator and gloves, which makes for a funny sight when delivering games to people’s porches.”
AbleCarts has also implemented new hygiene practices when it comes to gathering orders in the store and delivery, said Szura.
“We are meticulous when it comes to cleanliness,” he said. “We are very protective of our employees and our customers. For example, all of our employees wear masks and when picking out produce they reach through the bag to grab it, so they never come in contact with the food.”
Stegman at DoorDash says masked restaurant owners give her food orders that are sealed in a bag before she picks it up. She then places orders inside her own insulated sealed bag for the duration of the trip.
“I also keep my car squeaky clean,” she said. “I spray it down with hydrogen peroxide regularly. I’ve got enough cleaning supplies in my car to choke a horse.”
REFLECTIONS AMID PANDEMIC
Because AbleCarts is a nonprofit with a primary goal of training people with disabilities and paying them a fair wage, Szura said the organization is operating at a loss, despite the increase in demand. In order for all of his employees get paid, Szura has opted not to take a salary.
He hopes future grants and other funding will soon better supplement the program.
“I want to make sure AbleCarts can stay afloat in any kind of situation,” he said. “We’re accomplishing amazing things with 75% of our staff comprised of people with disabilities. Right now we can’t not provide this service. Our typical customer is a senior. This is our gift to people who are vulnerable during the pandemic. If we can keep 60 or more high risk people out of the store a week, that’s significant.”
“Delivering the board games is a way for me to remind the community and some of my friends and family that we are all in this together and to help keep them entertained and home so we can flatten the curve,” said Lewis. “Reopening prematurely is my biggest fear. It’s encouraging to know that we live in such a tight knit community. While this is scary for everyone in multiple ways, whether for our own health, a family member’s, friends, or for our businesses, we have invested so much.
“But no amount of money is ever worth even one life. I hope everyone will remember that and not fight to open back up until the time is right. I encourage the people of Nevada County to do the right and responsible thing with social distancing. I will keep delivering games every day until my shelves are bare.”
MORE IN THE SERIES
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.