Montgomery County resident Sheena Hauser recently got into a “minor” altercation at a supermarket. It really wasn’t her fault, she said. She was just trying to stock up on canned food and other supplies since the coronavirus is in full bloom.
“I was coming down the aisle as I was looking for something, and another woman was coming down the aisle…, and we both had to stop short,” said Hauser, 41. “She started to cuss me out! The woman, she was calling me all sorts of names. I told her she needed to stand down, and then the security guards came.”
As the region deals with the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown that has shuttered schools, businesses and forced people into their homes, food shopping has taken on new gravity. Instead of just a chore, it can feel like a matter of life and death.
But Hauser, a Philadelphia-area dentist, is used to picking up extra groceries. Her recent trips were to make sure she had more than enough to “bug in,” as preppers say.
She doesn’t quite qualify for what would be called a true prepper, but she is “typically very well stocked,” Hauser said. “I can make a four-course meal at any time. I have napkins and all the dried goods. I’m really usually very prepared.”
Preppers, sometimes called “survivalists” or “doomsday preppers,” tend to be a secretive bunch.
James Walton, a true prepper who grew up in Philly and now lives in Richmond, Va., was willing to chat. He runs the “Prepper Broadcasting Network” seven days a week, covering topics ranging from everyday prepping to how to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
“Our whole goal…is we want to take the term back from the sort of laugh-line extremist kind of sentiment that’s out there when you think of a prepper,” Walton said. “It’s just a bunch of regular people with regular jobs. We just pay attention and have foresight and take action on what we see.
For instance, Walton keeps chickens, which he uses for fresh eggs. He grows a lot of his own food and is familiar with what plants and trees can be used for medicinal purposes. And Walton is also a blacksmith, noting that we have only been living this “hyper-convenient” kind of life since the industrial revolution.
‘We get pulled out of the closet…and then mocked’
For preppers, the lockdown the region is experiencing right now is something they expected — and prepared for.
Adam Getreu, 36, a periodontist who lives in Center City, is a sort of unofficial prepper. He and his wife didn’t rush out to get supplies when news of Philly’s forced sequester came out. They had plenty.
“Generally, we just buy a lot from Costco once a month,” Getreu said. “We just did it a bit earlier. I tend to be a long-term planner.”
For instance, at Costco this time he stocked up on dried beans, rice, and canned tuna. Getreu said he already had plenty of paper products squirreled away.
Jackie Robins, 43, a would-be prepper in Bala Cynwyd, had also already piled more food and paper goods into her already full cabinets. And since there is no hand sanitizer to be found, she bought alcohol and aloe vera gel to make her own.
Jackie, who has three children with her husband, Elie Basch, also made sure they had enough of their necessary medications for at least 30 days.
Walton, of the Prepper Broadcasting Network, said he sympathized with people who are not prepared. “They are not my enemy.”
But what he doesn’t like is how people suddenly glom onto prepping during a crisis and then reject and stigmatize those who do it as a way of life.
“Everybody takes advice from the preppers when things like this happen,” Walton said. “It’s a weird, weird thing where we kind of get pulled out of the closet and dusted off and then thrown back in after and kind of mocked and all that.”
He’d like to change that narrative and to see Americans focus more on preparation in general.
“My theory is that everybody is inherently into their own survival,” Walton said, “but it just takes a certain thing to shake it out of them.”