It was still dark when a crowd gathered at the North Street Walmart for its first-ever pandemic related senior shopping hour.

And while no one appeared to be checking IDs, “Most looked legit,” noted Annette Dawson, one of the senior shoppers who arrived at the store an hour before its 7 a.m. opening.

The retail giant is among local stores that have implemented senior shopping to help protect those customers over age 60 who, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are at higher risk of death should they contract COVID-19.

Even so, social distancing can be challenging with so many buyers looking for the same hard-to-get items. And those are still in short supply, says Dawson, who had been particularly worried about getting groceries and supplies while keeping her distance from others.

“There were only ranch bean cans in the beans and rice section when I got there,” she said. “I will try pick-up — just too crowded this morning.”

For those over age 60 who have family members in town, having groceries delivered is the best option, says Denise Lee, director of Nacogdoches HOPE, a food pantry that has been working overtime in recent weeks. But for those who don’t, non-profits and local churches are here to help, she said.

“We don’t want anyone to go without food,” Lee says, “and we will seek volunteers to deliver on a case-by-case basis depending on volunteer availability.”

In addition to a program to help hourly workers get by, Love INC. also is helping seniors who cannot risk going to grocery stores with home delivery of essentials.

“Our older folks regardless of their income status, should be utmost in our sights,” says Love INC Executive Director Patti Goodrum, who encourages church members to check on elderly members of their congregations.

Older residents may need groceries, yard work or errands, she said, but good samaritans should remember not to go into homes and maintain at least a 6-foot distance.

For seniors on a fixed income, HOPE operates a Senior Boxes program, through which 35-pound boxes of canned goods, powdered milk, canned meats, government cheese and cranberries that are distributed from the pantry, 2100 E. Main St., on the second Wednesday of each month.

There is a waiting list, Lee says, but those who get on the waiting list receive either an unclaimed box or a grocery kit.

“No senior leaves empty handed,” she said.

“I can’t say enough about our partners across the community, from the United Way and the Chamber of Commerce to Love INC,” Fire Chief Keith Kiplinger said. “We are limited in our staffing and what the city can do, but the nonprofits, the churches, the people that live here are doing an amazing job.”

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