Food outlets adjust hours, procedures

Amber Keirn, HATponics head gardener, holds a lettuce mix, a variety of types of lettuce all planted together so they can be harvested together.

Local stores such as Dollar General and Ingles are doing what they can to provide safe environments for shoppers and employees.

Dollar General is offering a variety of aids such as in-store discounts, senior hours and early closing hours, Angela Petkovic, public relations, said in an email correspondence.

In-store discounts are reserved for first responders and “activated National Guardsmen” who will see a 10 percent discount on all in-store purchases. The first hour of operations of each day is dedicated to “most at-risk and susceptible neighbors” such as senior citizens.

All stores are closing an hour early to give employees a chance to re-stock rapidly depleting shelves.

“We plan to invest approximately $35 million in bonuses for all eligible full- and part-time employees across our stores, distribution centers and private fleet network who perform work during a six-week period, which began in mid-March, as an additional way to show our gratitude and appreciation for their work,” Petkovic said. “... We have established protocols for how employees are to respond to both direct and indirect exposure to the virus in all of our stores and facilities and continue to update those as the situation unfolds.

“Additionally, any employee that is forced to remain at home due to a confirmed case or exposure to an immediate family member, individual they care for or intimate partner will be paid for regularly scheduled hours during that time,” she added.

Other area grocery stores are enacting similar protocols, as well as opening up job opportunities for people who were forced out of their jobs by COVID-19.

“To ensure our stores and distribution centers have the support they need, we are currently hiring over 5,000 additional associates,” Ron Freeman, CFO of Ingles Markets, Inc., said in a press release. “This will provide some relief to our current associates and allow us to continue to focus on serving our customers while maintaining out enhanced cleaning standards.”

Walmart, Food City and Aldi also offer special senior hours.

From local farms to your doorstepOn the local produce front, leaders at HATponics in Lenoir City are offering an affordable home delivery system.

HATponics is an aquaponics farm that focuses on vegetables and fish grown in an “ultra clean, ultra healthy manner,” Ryan Cox, founder and CEO, said.

“We have a large selection of produce, meats, from our direct farm, and we have all herbs and vegetables that you could ever want that we are providing as a home delivery service to people who are taking the virus … very seriously,” Cox said. “… We realized very early that the coronavirus was going to have an effect on the farmers markets in the area, and so as those markets began to have less and less people, we realized that our farmers needed an outlet just as badly as we did.”

Instead of simply selling produce online, HATponics created an online farmers market with home delivery. People can sign up for home delivery at www.hatponics.com where they can browse produce available from various farms.

Taylor Fatheree, HATponics director of product development, said deliveries will be made within a 30-mile radius of the farm on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a flat rate of $9. Orders must be placed no later than midnight the night before the requested delivery date.

“The really nice thing is that it’s created this synergistic outlet for local farms so that we’re not going to be suffering because of the coronavirus,” Cox said. “… Our goal has been to make sure that we have everyone in our network taken care of.”