people with disabilities

People with disabilities in Toronto are struggling to get groceries during pandemic

People with disabilities, who rely on grocery delivery services, are struggling to get food now that those services are overwhelmed by demand.  

"I don't think either shoppers or the companies have thought about this unintended consequence of the increased demand," said Larissa Fan, an artist who has a chronic neurological illness called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). 

"Prior to the COVID-19 situation I had been using grocery delivery regularly with no problems, I could order in the morning and have groceries delivered later that day," she told blogTO.  

But on March 22 when she placed an order, the earliest delivery date was March 26. On March 25 she got a message saying the service was late and was rescheduled to March 31. 

"Now I'm not even able to place an order as no delivery slots are available," she said, having tried Instacart, Grocery Gateway, and Cornershop. 

"In desperation I went to the store on March 26 because I was out of food, but that was a terrible experience," Fan told blogTO. 

She explained that between trying to keep the necessary physical distance from shoppers and the extra mental energy it takes to plan, prepare and make last minute adjustments, she's drained and her illness symptoms flared up anew. 

"Doing too much can cause me to crash and be bed bound for days or even weeks. Shopping is one of the activities that is particularly taxing, so I rely on grocery delivery and online shopping," said Fan, who has now been sick for three days because of the last trip. 

Fan isn't the only one who's struggling. On social media a number of people with disabilities and chronic illnesses have voiced similar experiences. 

The biggest issue is not being able to schedule a delivery. But another issue is that people aren't able to get the products they need, which for healthy people is a minor inconvenience but for others can be life threatening.

For example, people with celiac disease are having trouble getting gluten-free products and people who use CPAP machines can't get distilled water, which is needed for the machine to run. 

Fan also mentions that many delivery services have stopped bringing food to apartment doors and are leaving groceries in the lobby. This is understandable as a safety precaution, but can make it even more difficult for disabled customers who might not be able to get those groceries from the lobby. 

While Fan understands that companies are doing their best in a difficult situation, she wishes they would prioritise those in need. 

"I would like the companies to reserve priority spots for the elderly, disabled, immuno-compromised, and quarantined," she told blogTO, mentioning the UK's grocery chain Sainsbury's as an example.

So far the only company that Fan has come across that has made the disabled and elderly a priority is Fiesta Farms, who've only started delivering due to the unprecedented circumstances.

However, for Fan who's main source of income is disability benefits says the $15 fee is too steep.   

Fan has also tried messaging various companies (Instacart, Grocery Gateway, Inabuggy, Loblaws and Walmart) to ask if they would start prioritizing vulnerable customers, but so far she hasn't received a response. 

Loblaws told blogTO in an email that in addition to the dedicated hours for those who are most vulnerable, they’ve lowered prices on home-delivered goods offered through PC Express, as well as eliminating delivery and pick up fees. 

blogTO also reached out Instacart, Grocery Gateway, Inabuggy and Walmart. At the time of publication blogTO hadn't received a response. 

But it's not just companies who can do their part, according to Fan. 

"I would also like able-bodied people who are using grocery delivery services to think about whether they really need to do so, considering how difficult the surge in demand is making it for people who rely on those services," she said. 

"Some people do not have the option to ask someone else to do their shopping for them." 

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