GULFPORT, Fla. — There are about a million ways to get your hurricane season supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic with a minimum of contact with the outside world. From big online retailers like Amazon Prime and Boxed to delivery apps and contactless pick-it-up-out-front fulfillment through your local big-box home improvement stores, it’s relatively painless to procure just about anything you’ll need for the rest of the storm season and beyond.
If you’re looking for a more personalized experience, however—or one that does more to support the local community—you might want to look closer to home for your delivery service. Individuals around the Bay area are using social media channels and apps like NextDoor to offer their services to their neighbors. Some are out of work and looking to make some money; some just want to feel useful in such uncertain times. Most, however, are doing a bit of both, and will happily bring you some extra batteries, candles, water or whatever else you need.
What You Need To Know
- Plenty of services are available to deliver your hurricane season supplies
- Bay area locals have taken to independent delivery to make money and support their communities
- Wendy Ohlendorf offers a concierge-style deliery service in Gulfport
Gulfport resident Wendy Ohlendorf, who’s offered a concierge shopping service delivering groceries and other sundries for a few months now, went so far as to remind her customers last week that a storm may be coming.
“You know how we are about hurricanes, like people really don’t take it seriously until it’s right on top of us,” she says with a laugh. “So I have to think about that for my clients ahead of time, remind them to check their batteries. Does Fluffy have enough food? Do you have water? All those things that you’re supposed to keep in preparedness, but with COVID in conjunction with that, I think everybody ate all their hurricane food.
“So we need to get those things back in order, and if I can help remind people to do that then that’s even better.”
After her restaurant and wine bar Vintage closed in December, Ohlendorf focused on her boutique, Mermaid Mercantile, until the pandemic forced her to close that business as well in March. She began making masks and bringing some popular Vintage menu items to housebound friends and former regulars, and gradually slid into procuring and delivering other items, as well.
She now has six regular households as clients, as well as multiple one-off and occasional customers. Ohlendorf isn’t beholden to a service like Shipt; in fact, she doesn’t use any apps at all, preferring to rely on community message groups and word of mouth.
“The prices of what you buy are inflated, and you pay a $10 monthly service charge, and you pay a delivery fee on top of that,” she says. “That was just too much for a lot of people. And sometimes you don’t get [exactly what you ordered].”
Subscription services like Shipt are also limited as to what businesses they can pick up from. That’s not a problem for a helpful local like Ohlendorf.
“As long as your order is in to me by one o’clock in the afternoon, it’s same day delivery, and I go to all the stores, you can tell me anywhere you want,” she says. “I even go to the gas station and pick up this one type of beer for this guy.”
As Tropical Storm Isaiah approached, it was natural for her to check in on her customers and see if they needed any hurricane supplies. Several took her up on the offer, ordering dog food, water, canned goods and, of course, batteries.
Ohlendorf charges a flat fee of 20 percent of a client’s bill. She says she’s definitely not making a living, but trying to keep afloat during the pandemic is only one of the reasons why she decided to start making deliveries, and to keep doing it, at least until Mermaid Mercantile opens September 1 in a new, smaller location.
“We have a lot of people in this community who can’t get out, who are on fixed incomes, and those [subscription service] membership fees can put them between a rock and a hard place,” she says “It more started to do something good for my community and really only get gas money out of it.
“It makes me feel like I’m contributing, and that makes me feel like a better person.”