Many of you from military families can relate: As I was growing up, my parents shopped primarily at the commissary and the PX (post exchange, for the rest of you). Because it was “all the way out in Oakdale,” my parents didn’t go often, and they tended to buy a bunch of stuff all at once. In our basement laundry room, my dad built shelves for all the dry goods and an extra refrigerator/freezer held the perishables. I used to call it their bomb shelter and I thought it was ridiculous for our small family of four, including the dog.
One day, aghast at my mom’s eight bars of Camay soap, multiple boxes of Hamburger Helper and an entire row of Ragu sauce, I made fun of her and she told me to mind my own business. As babies of the 1930s, they were too young to comprehend the shortages of The Great Depression and the rationing of World War II, but it must’ve made enough of an impression to spark action. I had a small sample of it as a child during the oil crisis of the ‘70s, when cars lined up for miles to gas up on alternate days. But I was too young to drive, and I let the adults worry about it.
And then it happened. The pandemic wiped store shelves here cleaner than before a Pittsburgh blizzard. Toilet paper. Clorox wipes. Hand sanitizer. Antibacterial kitchen cleaner. Yeast. Flour. Canned pumpkin. (PUMPKIN?) Mostly First World issues. (A friend of my mother’s casually said: “Why are people so worried about toilet paper? You can always use a washcloth and launder it.” I was horrified.) Trips to Costco frightened me as we returned home empty-handed. When we finally could find toilet paper, we had to take whatever brand was available and it wasn’t always, well, the same. I had to re-examine my thought process. Was I really this entitled? How did I get this bad? I donated to the food bank and built a pyramid of Charmin Ultra Soft in the basement once it became available. Deep inside I was afraid something worse could be next.
Enter the labor shortage. Friends whose daughters in nursing were so loaded up on patients they couldn’t care for them properly. Emails from local emergency vet clinics said they had to close for the weekend because they didn’t have staff. Pharmacies were closing early, making it harder to get prescriptions.
The municipality had its own supply chain challenges. (See writer Merle Jantz’s story.) Through thoughtful planning and quick reactions, our staff has so far avoided serious issues. Yes, it’s a good thing that we have toilet paper in the Rec Center, but way more important to have PPE and road salt. This Thanksgiving, I’m giving extra gratitude for the unseen people who continue to ensure Mt. Lebanon has what it needs to stay safe.