How stockpiling because of COVID-19 could be hurting your fellow Islanders

As long lines and empty shelves are becoming a normal occurrence at grocery stores around the country, some are saying we’re going about this all wrong.

‘Collectively, we've got to get this right’

Empty shelves that normally hold toilet paper, tissues and paper towels at Charlottetown Superstore Monday night. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

As long lines and empty shelves are becoming a normal occurrence at grocery stores around the country, some are saying we're going about this all wrong.

Though stockpiling may make you feel more prepared, John Eisner, president and CEO of Credit Counselling Services Atlantic Canada, says it could mean there isn't enough for others in need.

"I think it's going to have a bigger effect than what we've already seen because you know, we're coming towards the end of the month," he said.

"For most of us we're aware that at the end of the month, there's a big surge in the grocery stores."

The end of the month is when social programs pay out to their recipients, also sometimes referred to as cheque day.

Reports of stockpiling across the country began earlier this month with the mounting fears of COVID-19 and the rapidly evolving situation in countries like Iran, Italy and China.

For those on social assistance in P.E.I., the last payment was Feb. 28 and the next payment will not arrive until March 31.

That could mean that some Islanders' money for the month was spent before fears of the pandemic led people to believe they needed to stockpile supplies.

'A real test to the system'

Eisner is concerned about people on fixed incomes and those living paycheque to paycheque. He said those living on fixed incomes are all different, but ideally, they would spread their purchases out to make their money last through the month.

"A lot of cases, there's people that go out and try to make that one purchase to carry them, other than their fresh foods, for the month," said Eisner.

"Based on the current situation that we currently are seeing through Atlantic Canada, I think this is going to be a real test to the system at the end of the month."

Signs like this are cropping up all over Charlottetown and many parts of the Island as many businesses closed Wednesday. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

In a news briefing Thursday evening, the province said there would be no delay on social assistance payments. 

With more unprecedented Island closures being announced every day — including a rush of long lines Wednesday as it was announced that the government-run liquor and cannabis stores would close Thursday — there is uncertainty as Islanders adjust to a new normal.

On Thursday evening, Loblaws announced in a news release that they would be scaling back the hours of grocery stores and Shoppers Drug Marts across the country.

There's so much panic out there and it's creating even further problems.— John Eisner, CEO, Credit Counselling Services of Atlantic Canada

"While the flow of goods is stable, our incredible store teams are exhausted and concerned. As the whole country is being asked to stay home, they are proudly coming to work," said Loblaw executive chairman Galen Weston in the email.

"Keeping our stores open and serving you depends entirely on the health and well-being of the people who work there. We need to look after them."

Weston said the supply of food and other essentials will remain uninterrupted by the U.S.-Canada border closures.

"There's so much panic out there and it's creating even further problems. We're exposing more people by, you know, that fear," Eisner said.

"This is a much bigger magnitude out there. You know there's a lot more people struggling just to make ends meet."


With non-essential businesses closing Wednesday, many Islanders will now also be going without their regular paycheque.

Eisner also worries for those with poor or low credit scores, making it difficult to obtain a credit card. Many Island businesses stopped accepting cash this week, out of concern that handing cash from hand to hand was not a good social distancing practice.

Stick to your regular normal practices.— John Eisner, CEO, Credit Counselling Services of Atlantic Canada

"They're listening to the news or seeing what's happening. The media is reporting the problems that are out there. There's no doubt in my mind they're feeling that stress and they're probably making some unwise decisions as well," he said.

"To go out to these payday loans and run on their money at astronomic interest rates, 60 per cent, because all they're doing is taking more money off their paycheck." 

'People that are vulnerable'

Even though many grocery stores have designated shopping hours for seniors, Eisner said they are still a vulnerable group.

"They may not have the same luxury as those that have vehicles," he said.

Some shelves at the big grocery stores, including Sobeys, are empty. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

"They may get to the grocery store and find the shelves are bare ... we all know toilet paper has been one, but you know, I think there's other concerns: bread, eggs and whatever.

"There's just so many people that are vulnerable, they haven't even got there yet."

Eisner's advice? Stop bulk buying.

"Stick to your regular normal practices and buying your groceries whether you buy them weekly or every two weeks," he said.

"If you go back to your old patterns and maintain what you've always done, rest assured, there'll be food and necessities for everyone."

Going forward

Kathy Jones, executive director and clinical therapist with Family Service P.E.I., said we are truly living in unprecedented times.

"That leads us to this just feeling that life is just a little bit out of our control, and of course, our brains are wired to not only try to make logical sense of what we're going through but to try to regain that sense of control," said Jones.

"The things that you really need to pay attention to right now are routine: sleep, exercise and nutrition and those are things that we look at all the time for a mental well-being."

Like Credit Counselling Services Atlantic Canada, Family Service P.E.I. also provides credit counselling. Jones said there are plans in the works for people that are extra cash-strapped during this stressful time.

"Credit Counselling Canada is working very hard with most of the major creditors out there to try to ensure that we're working towards some relief for debt repayment clients, and they're having some success in that regard," she said.

There are two confirmed cases of COVID-19 on P.E.I.

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call your local public health authority. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Be aware of evolving travel advisories to different regions.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.


Nicola is a graduate of St. Thomas University's journalism program and grew up on P.E.I., where she is happy to be a reporter and producer online, on radio and on television. Got a story? Email

With files from Angela Walker