Pandemic Bulk Buying

Nothing is different. And yet, everything is different.

I’m feeling a lot of gratitude these days. I know that there are many lives that have been deeply, radically, terribly altered by this whole coronavirus pandemic. Anything I might say about how my life is changed has to first be prefaced by an acknowledgement of my personal privilege.

pantry staples

I’ve been buying my pantry staples in bulk for years. A year or so ago, I took on the coordinator role for my “drop” with Azure Standard, a company out of Oregon that sells organic food items (think: rice, beans, oats, flour, nuts, granola, oil, etc). Customers order online, and Azure delivers to a drop site every 4 weeks. As the coordinator, I answer questions from new drop members and meet the truck to receive the orders on delivery day. Azure has a minimum order volume that the members of a drop need to meet collectively. You can order as much or a little as you need, but if the orders don’t, as a group, tally up to a certain minimum, it’s not worth it to Azure to put the items on the truck.

Most of the time, this hasn’t been a problem. I think in the years I’ve been ordering from Azure, my order didn’t ship maybe 5 times due to the drop not making the minimum. The order has just rolled over to the next delivery window four weeks later, and I’m fortunate to live where there are a number of grocery options.

And then the pandemic arrived. My active Azure drop memberships have more than tripled. Delivery day used to be just a couple people meeting the truck, with order sizes usually about 1 or 2 boxes. This most recent delivery day had 29 people picking up orders that topped out at 15 “boxes” (think: cases of canned tomatoes or 25 lb bags of oats or repacked boxes of smaller items). Our collective orders required their own pallet!

Distributing orders used to be a matter of everyone gathering around the back end of the truck, checking out the labels on the boxes and sorting things out in an easy, social way. “Emily, this one is yours!” Social distancing guidelines now mean that the driver, Caitlyn, and I unload everything ourselves. I try to group boxes together by purchaser. Everyone else lines up, 6-12 feet apart from each other, and waits until the orders are sorted. Then, one at a time, folks come tell me their name (since we’re all wearing masks, I’m even worse than usual at matching names and faces), and I point out which collection of boxes is theirs.

As long as Washington is under any form of a shelter-in-place order, I expect that this is the new routine for the Azure drop. Our next delivery isn’t until the end of the month and we’ve already cruised past our minimum. It will be interesting to see if this increase is a temporary thing or the “new normal”. Will folks return to their previous grocery-buying habits when we’re no longer in lockdown? Or will they become regular Azure customers, buying their dry goods in monthly installments?

Which brings me back to gratitude. I’m thankful that Azure exists and that I already knew how their system works; figuring it out when desperate for supplies must be stressful. But especially, I’m grateful for how patient and understanding folks have been, with me as I learn how to wrangle the increase in order volume, with Azure as they deal with shortages and delays caused by that increase nationwide, and with each other. I appreciate the reminder that, individually, folks are generally decent people. Here’s hoping we figure out ways to continue being decent to each other as things get weirder.

(This post also appears on Traditions of the AncestorsMiLife group, which is encouraging folks to record their COVID-19 and quarantine experiences. This is an unprecedented time (as annoying and overused as that phrase is); the stories of everyday people are, more than ever, a necessary part of the historical record. All are welcome, if you’d like to contribute.)

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