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Hospitals Open "Pop Up" Grocery Stores To Help Healthcare Staff

In the midst of a crisis, people still have to eat. Going to the grocery store can be difficult and time-consuming — recommendations say to avoid "peak hours" and only go early in the morning or late at night to avoid crowds, and some people are choosing to try to sanitize their food before putting it away. For healthcare workers, spending time at the grocery store may not be an option. Fortunately, hospitals are responding to their needs by opening small, temporary "pop up" grocery stores on their campuses.


Healthcare workers already worked notoriously long, difficult hours before COVID-19 made headlines. This can make shopping for food difficult at the best of times; coupled with low product availability, long lines, and grocery store policies limiting how many customers may enter at one time, and keeping food at home becomes next to impossible.

Hospital pop-up grocery stores give these essential workers a way to keep themselves and their families fed, so they can spend more time at home and less time trying to grocery shop. These shops provide necessities like bread, milk, eggs, and even toilet paper, sometimes at a discounted price.

There's another benefit to this setup, too. Healthcare workers have reported facing judgment -- and even violence — when they venture out in public. Being able to shop at the hospital helps give them an added layer of protection, and makes it easier for them to practice effective social distancing.

Unity Hospital in Rochester, New York, turned its cafeteria into a pop-up store with the help of its usual vendors. Offerings include toilet paper and other paper products, eggs, bread, milk, breakfast food, lunch meat, produce, and premade family meals. The store's hours accommodate employee's shift times and allow workers to self-checkout.


Most hospitals don't have an abundance of extra space to squeeze in a pop-up shop, but, as in Unity's example, there are ways to make do. Moving seating in cafeterias and dining areas can create aisles and display space.

It's important to note that there's really no need to set up endcaps or elaborate sales displays. These shops are providing the bare necessities for their employees' safety and convenience. While it would be nice to create an attractive atmosphere, all a pop-up grocery store really needs are containers, surfaces, and a means of keeping cold foods safely refrigerated.

To preserve social distancing guidelines, it's best to arrange displays in a way that facilitates flow in one direction, similar to a buffet line. Employees can enter one at a time, stay six feet apart, and grab what they need as they move through the store single file. This saves time and lessens the risk of COVID-19 transmission.


In almost every instance, these shops started with the bare basics: bread, milk, eggs, and toilet paper. They are gradually expanding their offerings to include time-saving convenience meals and even fresh produce from local farms.

The best first step for a hospital deciding what to carry would be to reach out to its regular vendors, and see what help if any, they are willing to offer. In some cases, it might be possible to work out a deal to sell products at cost. The next step is to reach out to the community. Many farmers are finding that they don't have a market for their food and might be willing to work with the hospital to supply fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat.


Since shop space is likely pulling double-duty as cafeteria or dining area space, the ability to switch from one to the other is important. Most of these shops only operate as shops during windows when employees are coming to and leaving work.

Retail display cases and food shields provide ways to show products while protecting them from contamination.Racks and baskets help keep goods organized, and maximize the use of vertical space. Mobile tables and counters can create extra horizontal space that's easy to rearrange or move out of the way when necessary.

It's also important to consider staffing. Some hospitals are providing ways for workers to self-checkout, but there still needs to be someone there to stock products, handle spills, and keep things running smoothly. It might be worthwhile to see if cafeteria or dining area employees are able to cover the hours when the pop-up shops are open, but some hospitals may need to bring a few additional temporary workers on board.

Hospital workers need help now more than ever. In a time when supplies and time are running low, setting up pop-up grocery shops is an incredibly helpful way to give them back some of the time they need to go home, rest, see their families, and avoid exhaustion and burnout. For hospitals reaching out to local farmers for products, it's also a way to help their communities.


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