August 2, 2014

Shopping cart for special-needs children gets test drive in Turlock

A mother’s efforts have helped bring special shopping carts for disabled children to a few Modesto and Turlock grocery stores.

For many parents of small children, the biggest hassle of grocery shopping is making sure the shelves are out of reach of grabby little hands while navigating a cart down the supermarket aisles.

But in the far too short time she had two of her three sons, Turlock resident Carolina Alfaro found a trip to the store a much greater challenge. Two sons, Diego and Adrian, had Zellweger syndrome, a disabling genetic disease that occurs in less than one in 100,000 births.

Typically, Alfaro waited to shop until her husband got home each day. But sometimes, she’d take one boy out while their grandmother or a therapist watched the other.

At the market, “I usually wasn’t able to pick up more than a few things,” she recalled. “I would push the wheelchair and carry one of the store’s little red baskets on my right hand. I’d put a few groceries in the red basket and a few groceries in the bottom storage area of the wheelchair and a few in my son’s lap.”

Diego died in February 2009 at age 21/2, and Adrian followed in January 2011, just shy of his third birthday. But for Carolina, awareness of the needs of parents with disabled children and a desire to advocate for them remained.

In April, “I came across an online article that talked about Caroline’s Cart, and it hit close to home for me.”

Caroline’s Cart is a shopping cart created for special-needs children. Its features include handles that swing back to provide convenient access to the seat, and a seat back with a 5-degree tilt for children with low muscle tone.

Alfaro began working to bring the carts to area stores, and her efforts helped place three of them in Modesto and Turlock.

“When I saw the article, I researched and realized that a lot of East Coast stores have Caroline’s Carts available,” Alfaro said Friday. “I went on Facebook pages and saw posts from parents who’d experienced the carts firsthand” and sang their praises.

“I had called all the grocery stores in Turlock and Modesto, and a few in Merced and Stockton, and there was nothing available regionally. I called Caroline’s Cart and the only thing they knew of in California was at the Whole Foods in San Francisco. ... I wrote an email May 5 to Save Mart, talking about the article and my experiences and how I’d always been a faithful shopper at their store. Soon after, I heard from the store manager that they would consider getting a cart.”

Friday, Alfaro was at the Save Mart on Geer Road in Turlock to see that store’s cart get test rides from 7-year-old Katy Blair of Modesto and 6-year-old Hayven Smith of Oakdale, who have cerebral palsy. “Katy right away tried to hop on and was all smiles. She doesn’t communicate verbally very much, but you could see from her face how excited she was,” Alfaro said. “Hayven is very communicative, and as soon as she got on said, ‘I love it.’ ”

Katy’s mother, Marramonie Blair, also enjoyed the experience. “It was great, very easy to drive, and Katy loved it – being able to get in herself and buckle up.” Blair said she usually doesn’t take Katy to the grocery store unless it’s an emergency. But since Save Mart now has a Caroline’s Cart at its Pelandale Avenue store in Modesto, “this will make it more convenient to take her if I need to grab a couple of things. I don’t need to pull out equipment from the car or wait until my husband is available.”

The third cart in the area is at Trader Joe’s on Dale Road in Modesto.

Alicia Rockwell, director of public affairs and communications for Save Mart, said the chain is looking to add the carts to other locations. “We’ve already had a couple of stores raise their hands and say, ‘We want one.’ Corporate would like to establish a cart centrally located in each of the markets we serve. We want to make sure there are enough to make them accessible in the area.”

At the Geer and Pelandale stores, the carts have a special home at the front, with a sign that explains what they are, so parents don’t mistake them as just another riding option for kids. “And we’re monitoring them pretty closely,” Rockwell said. “We always have an attendant go with the cart in and out of the store, so they’re not left in the parking lot. Families can call ahead and we’ll take the cart out to them, too.

“It’s such an addition to our stores, and we’re so grateful to Carolina Alfaro.”

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