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As supermarkets and pharmacies are being cleared out of paper goods, cleaners, bread and non-perishables while we’re holed up at home because of the novel coronavirus, you’re likely wondering what you should be buying for your family. Is hoarding really necessary? What exactly should you be stocking up on? What’s the safest way to shop at the supermarket? And how can we help those who need it most right now? Here’s a guide to answer all those questions.

What to Buy at the Supermarket

Large-scale school and business closures might keep you inside with the kids for the better part of a few weeks. Americans have been advised to self-quarantine as much as possible to limit exposure to others, so it’s best to be prepared. Here are some supermarket musts to have on hand, plus some pharmacy essentials that you may need down the road:

  • Canned goods: Keep these at room temp and they can last for years. Fruits (try those with no added sugar) and vegetables are a no-brainer, since fresh ones can go bad in a  few days. Beans, tuna and soup can also go a long way—just keep an eye on the sodium.
  • Long-lasting pantry staples: Rice, pasta and quinoa make a perfect dinner. Dried fruit will give the kids a jolt of nutrients, while nut butter provides protein at snack or lunch time. Consider getting shelf-stable pasteurized milk to save you from having to take a second supermarket trip after expiration day. Granola bars and protein bars are a must, as are oatmeal, cereal and popcorn.
  • Frozen foods: These are a total lifesaver because you don’t have to worry about them going bad. Frozen fruits and veggies are perfect for smoothies and stir-frys, while pizza is a kid-friendly staple they won’t get sick of. Snag a few extra packs of your fave protein (chicken, beef, etc.) to defrost at a later date. It won’t hurt to have some ice cream in there to soothe the stress of working from home with the kids, either.
  • Basics: Eggs, cheese and butter are all perishable, but should last weeks if they’re properly refrigerated. Garlic, onions and potatoes take a long time to go bad, and your bagels and sliced bread get a longer shelf life if you pop them in the freezer.
  • Cleaning supplies: As you likely already know, it’ll be tough to find sanitizing wipes or hand sanitizer. If you see these on the shelves, scoop some up, but get only what you need so there’s enough for others. Dish soap, hand soap, cleaning sprays and bleach are also must-buys if you’re lucky enough to see them in stock. Paper towels are also ideal to have for wiping down surfaces around the house (while you’re in that aisle, don’t forget about toilet paper and tissues).
  • Medicine: Ibuprofen and Tylenol are always good to have on deck. If you or the kids have allergies, be sure to snag your Claritin and saline spray. For boo-boos, make sure you have Band-Aids in the house. In case someone does end up showing symptoms of a cold, flu or coronavirus, have fever-reducing and cough/cold/flu medicines on hand. Have enough water at home to keep the kids extra hydrated if they do get sick.
  • Pet food: Have enough for your furry friends in stock to last so that you won’t need to go back to the store in a few weeks.

Why Hoarding Is Harmful

At times like these, it’s imperative that we look out for and protect each other. This is why it’s crucial to take what you need and leave the rest for more vulnerable shoppers like the immunocompromised and the elderly. Panic buying makes it disproportionately difficult for everyone to get what they need, plus it makes shortages worse in an already precarious time. This is why many stores have put two-per-person limits on certain products like toilet paper and hand sanitizer (Target’s list includes toilet paper and bottled water, and Wegmans’ runs the gamut from eggs to diapers to chicken).

There’s no reason to clear the shelves for yourself. Check what you already have at home before heading to the store so you’re not buying things unnecessarily. Also consider those in your life who are in more danger of serious complications if they were to be infected, and ask what you can get for them at the supermarket or what prescriptions you can pick up for them at the pharmacy. A little compassion can go a long way.

Tips for Health and Safety at the Supermarket

While supermarkets are staying open for the time being, it’s important to practice safe, sanitary shopping while you’re stocking up on necessities. Here are some tips for getting what you need without endangering yourself or your loved ones:

  • Wipe down the cart—the handle, the seat and the inside. Wipe down your steering wheel, seat belt and anything else in your car that you touch when you get home from the trip. Wash your hands immediately upon getting inside. If you don’t have any disinfectant wipes, try to wear gloves if you can find them.
  • Don’t touch your face while you’re at the supermarket. Wait until your hands are washed at home.
  • Some supermarkets are already enforcing social distancing by limiting the number of customers in the store at once, cutting hours and enforcing limits on high-demand products. Bundle up in case you’re standing outside for a while, and leave ample time for long checkout lines and large crowds.
  • Minimize your shopping time at the supermarket and potential exposure by checking what you already have at home before leaving the house. Some town Facebook groups like Ridgewood’s also have shared documents where residents can share what’s in stock and where with each other. Ask around and check your town Facebook groups to see if your community has one.
  • Some towns like Jersey City are allocating a daily supermarket shopping time for senior, disabled and pregnant shoppers to keep them safe from large crowds. Stay away from stores at these times, and only take what you need when you do go to make sure these people can get what they need.

How to Help NJ Food Banks

In moments of panic and worry, it’s easy to forget about those with less because we’re so focused on protecting ourselves. Not everyone has the privilege of stockpiling weeks worth of goods and medicine in their homes, let alone the ability to self-isolate and work from home. Help those who need it most by donating to a national or state food bank.

Some experts believe that money is actually a better food bank donation than food. For instance, Feeding America notes that $1 can help give at least 10 meals to families in need. That goes a lot further than that can of baked beans in the back of your cupboard. It also gives the bank the autonomy to buy what’s needed at a particular time rather than be limited to canned goods and Thanksgiving gravy.

Consider the Community FoodBank of New Jersey (CFBNJ), the state’s biggest anti-hunger organization. The coronavirus page on its website prompts users to make a monetary donation, and also provides resources for those looking for food and SNAP assistance. CFBNJ is also preparing 14-day nonperishable food boxes for those in need, as well as prepared meals to school kids who won’t have access to their usual school breakfasts and lunches.

The Food Bank of South Jersey is also continuing to distribute and collect food while maintaining sanitary, safe practices. The site notes that a $35 donation provides 175 meals in South Jersey. Fulfill, formerly the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean County, is also providing to-go meals to families in partnership with the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association. A $50 donation provides 150 meals.

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