MURRAY — The cancellations started Wednesday night.
The same night the NBA suspended its season indefinitely, Michael Kaleel began getting text messages and emails canceling catering order. By Thursday afternoon, after Gov. Gary Herbert asked that no gatherings of more than 100 people take place for the next few weeks, he only had one catering job left.
That was for a hospital, which needed to feed employees manning a call center Saturday.
“I understand,” said the owner of the restaurant Wriggles Wraps and a separate catering business in Murray. “I completely understand. I’m not the only one going through this foggy time.”
Thursday, the same day the governor announced new recommended restrictions on public gatherings, he tried to do some shopping for his restaurant and to get supplies for the catering job.
“I ended up not being able to get paper towels and cleaning supplies,” he said. “These things are extremely, extremely important to the food industry. I take pride in sanitizing everything I touch.”
Luckily, he wasn’t out of supplies, but it made him nervous about trying to restock.
“I’ve looked all over for sanitizing supplies and cleaning solutions,” he said Saturday. “I finally found some today. It wasn’t at the big box stores where everybody is seeming to take everything.”
Kaleel isn’t the only one struggling to find what he needs to keep his business running. A lot of people have posted on social media that the panic buying has left a lot of families in difficult and sometimes dangerous situations.
One mother posted on Facebook that her son, who has a congenital heart defect and has a tracheotomy, needs distilled water for his humidifier that’s connected to his ventilator.
“The homecare company gave us a 30-day supply and said they only had enough supplies for two more families and that they didn’t know how things looked for the next month,” she wrote. “If you see any at any store, PLEASE grab as many as you can and I’ll pay you back and pick them up from you. I’ve already been to six stores. People are panic buying and it’s threatening my son’s health.”
As people posted about needs that were going unmet because some were buying massive quantities of things like toilet paper, paper towels, diapers, wipes, medicines, and cleaning supplies, some created groups to help meet those needs.
Some neighborhoods created their own groups, but some are statewide and open to anyone.
Utah Coronavirus Hub was full of pleas for diapers, wipes, children’s over the counter medicine, baby formula and hand sanitizer. A day care asked if anyone could pick up 12 gallons of 1% milk, three half gallons of lactose free whole milk, three gallons of lactose free 1% milk and four or five quart size goat milk.
“If any of you are out and about and find some, could you pick it up for us? We will gladly Venmo or pay you cash,” the woman wrote on her Facebook page. “I feel like hunting down all the milk we need for the week will be a team effort.”
The ripple effect of buying much more than one needs impacts individuals who are already afraid to go out in public spaces and small business that are struggling to stay open and continue to pay employees as patrons take the advice of state leaders and stay home and away from public places.
“I really hope everybody acknowledges what’s going on, and that everybody is really good to each other,” Kaleel said. “We’ll get through this. Financially, I took a huge hit. ... But time shall pass, and hopefully we went up forgetting about this.”
Sometimes the ripple effect was unintentionally funny and sometimes it led to random acts of kindness. Stacey and Greg Kratz were on the receiving end of a kindness after a frustrating week of trying to find toilet paper.
“It started last Saturday,” Stacey Kratz said. “We went on our normal Sam’s Club run, and it was just on our list. We got to Sam’s and there wasn’t any.”
She assumed people were worried and trying to prepare for the worst, but she thought the fear would ease at some point.
“We didn’t know the panic buying was going to keep going,” she said. By Thursday, her husband suggested she start looking again, which she did.
“There still wasn’t any toilet paper at Sam’s,” she said. “So instead of going on an actual nice date (Friday night), we decided we’d go on a quest for the bum wipe. I went to Winco, and that was horrifying. It was unbelievable.”
She said the scene was “apolcalyptic” with empty shelves, abandoned carts and long lines. She and her husband went to Macy’s, Walmart, Lowe’s, CVS, Walgreens before surrendering to failure.
“We decided to give up and go to Sandy Stop, a cute little independently owned convenience store that had dollar drinks,” she said. “We needed to get something pleasurable.”
After buying their sodas, they noticed there on the shelves “the tiniest rolls of toilet paper.”
“There were six packages, and we just took three,” she said of trying to avoid the hoarding that had put them in a difficult situation.
Then Saturday morning, she woke to find a massive Sam’s Club box of toilet paper outside her back door.
“It was very heartwarming,” she said of a gift from a friend and former neighbor who’d followed her search on Facebook. “I probably got at least a dozen texts and private messages offering me toilet paper. It was people saying, ‘I don’t have a ton, but I could give you a couple of rolls.’”
Kaleel said that when he shopped on Thursday, “everyone was very silent, everyone kept to themselves, like they had a lot on their minds. And everybody was kind of panicked or rushed.”
Saturday he was able to find supplies he needed for the restaurant.
“We did have to go to a big box store for our paper goods for the restaurant,” he said. “And we had to get there extremely early because there were people there trying to hoard everything. Too many people are stocking up more than they need, and so some aren’t getting their fair share.”
He hopes that people will realize their actions have impacts that they can’t always see or predict.
“Everybody seems to be divided in this country,” he said. “This is the perfect time for everybody to come together and not be greedy. ... I’m not an epidemiologist. I’m just a sandwich guy who wants to make wraps and do good caterings.
“I think I can do my part, if I only take one box of sanitizer and not 10.”