Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The disappearing toilet paper & other COVID-19 updates from Minnesota March 13, 2020

We were running low on fruit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


I PROMISED MY ELDEST daughter I would pick up hand sanitizer for her while on routine grocery and big box store runs Thursday evening. We were running low on bathroom cleaning supplies, fresh fruit, bread, milk and other items. This wasn’t a stockpiling outing due to COVID-19, just a regular shopping trip. And picking up sanitizer for her—because she lives in the Twin Cities metro and can’t find any there—would be no big deal. Or so I thought.


A look at the toilet paper aisle at Aldi in Faribault on Thursday evening.


But upon entering Aldi, my go-to grocer, I immediately realized this would be anything but a typical visit. For one thing, the place teemed with people, unusual for a Thursday evening. Then I started noticing the empty and emptying shelves. We’re talking everything from almonds to bread to no spinach. But it was the toilet paper aisle that caused me to pause and take a photo. The toilet paper shortage repeated itself at Walmart and then at Fareway Foods.

As Randy and I waited to check out our groceries (no hoarding by us and no hand sanitizer for the daughter), I commented to the clerk about the sold-out merchandise and the crowd. She informed me that Aldi expected to do $21,000 in sales that day, typical for what she termed a “slow day.” But when we checked out at 7 pm, that total had already reached $42,000. They were unprepared, she said, explaining the emptying shelves. An Aldi semi pulled into the parking lot while we loaded our purchases into the van and then headed for Walmart. The Aldi clerk warned us of long lines there.

But we needed cleaning supplies and I was still searching for the elusive hand sanitizer. At Walmart I grabbed a package of bar soap, not anti-bacterial, but found no hand sanitizer. Back in the cleaning supplies aisle, Randy experienced the same issue with no Lysol wipes and none of the brand of bath or toilet bowl cleaners I use. There were few choices on the nearly-cleared shelves. And good luck finding toilet paper.

For probably the first time ever, we left Walmart without buying anything. I didn’t need three bars of soap bad enough to wait in line. Not that the lines were horrendous, but long enough to cause us to exit empty-handed.

We had one last stop, at a smaller grocery store which has a meat counter we especially like. That presented one final opportunity to purchase hand sanitizer and the elusive cleaning supplies. But before I got to the cleaning aisle, I bumped into a friend who blames the Chinese and U.S. governments for getting us into this current pandemic. And then I met a woman who stood in disbelief before the empty toilet paper shelves. She wondered aloud about what she termed “media-driven hysteria” and lack of concern by the general public regarding the 18,000 (her number, not mine) deaths caused by influenza. I engaged in a brief conversation, quickly realizing that, if I didn’t want to get into an altercation in the toilet paper aisle, I best not continue talking to her.

In the end, I found the cleaning supplies I wanted at Fareway Foods, but no hand sanitizer. And I grabbed two containers of ice cream to add to the few items in our grocery cart. I wasn’t hoarding. The ice cream was on sale. And I like ice cream.


This sign along I-90 welcomes travelers to Minnesota along the Mississippi River by La Crosse, Wisconsin.


UPDATES FROM MINNESOTA: Five more cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Minnesota today, bringing the total number to 14 with two of those individuals hospitalized. One is “acutely-ill,” according to Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm

The commissioner shared that information during a 1 pm news conference in which Minnesota Governor Tim Walz declared a peace-time state of emergency. This declaration gives him the power to mandate community measures to protect health and safety if need be. Currently, Minnesota officials are recommending canceling gatherings of 250 people or more, social distancing of six feet, limiting visitors to senior care centers and many other strategies we’ve already heard implemented elsewhere. Both Walz and Malcolm stress that we are in this together and must do our part to keep each other safe. Walz called the community level strategies “science based” and “societal measures.”

In my community, at least one school, Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a private college prep school with students from around the world, is transitioning to distance learning, according to an article in the Faribault Daily News. At this point, state officials are not recommending school closures. But, as the governor stated, decisions related to the Coronavirus are “evolving decisions.”


Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


So what do we do? Stay calm. Prepare, within reason. Recognize the vulnerability of older people and those with underlying health conditions. Follow the guidelines for gatherings and social distancing. Wash our hands. Cover our coughs. Stay home if we’re not feeling well. And, plain and simple, use common sense.

And if it helps, eat ice cream.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


31 Responses to “The disappearing toilet paper & other COVID-19 updates from Minnesota”

  1. Eric Paul Schmidt Says:

    Los Angeles is getting so paranoid that they are even cancelling church services….. 😦

    • That’s happening in Minnesota and Wisconsin also. It runs in line with the social distancing of six feet and the limiting of crowds. I haven’t heard yet whether our weekend services are on or off. But services have been cancelled at both of our daughters’ churches.

  2. The shops look very similar here too – I hope you and your family stay safe and well

  3. Brian Says:

    People found out hardware stores sell disinfectant cleaning supplies and toilet paper too. So a run of both were experienced at my store this week and now we, along with the big box stores are out of both. Not sure when or if supply will catch up with demand. When a run on lutefisk happens then I’ll know we’re in real trouble. In the meantime, I’m washing my hands like I’m prepping for surgery.

  4. Old clothing cut up into squares can function as toilet paper. You need a bucket with water and a splash of bleach to deposit soiled cloths into.

    Pour bleached soiled water into toilet bowl, flush, wash cloths in washing machine with hot water and more bleach.

    Note: get some extra bottles of bleach.

    PS for hand washing, regular soap with running water works just fine. 🙂 If you can’t, I made myself some wipes with ethanol alcohol and paper towel. I keep them in a ziplock bag. 🙂

    Stay healthy and safe out there.

  5. Mummmm good, ice cream.

    Seems like it would be a nightmare to be in logistics right now for any company trying to supply a nation with toilet paper. How many centuries did man live without? I grew up with an outhouse. Sometimes the toilet paper was wet… used it anyway. Sometimes we were to poor for toilet paper and so we used rags, even washing them and reusing if needed.
    Here in the Netherlands people are worried more about the economic impact of all of this. The airlines, tourist industry, flower industry all are bleeding financially due to the mass exodus of people. For the first time since after WWII most people here are worried. Stores are still stocked and the PM got on yesterday and told everyone to stop stock piling.
    Since the Hubby works for an airline that has two planes in MN that need to be picked up In April…I will just say it has been a stressful week.
    My schedule MN trip was cancelled as I didn’t want to end up in some government location on 14 day quarantine hundreds or thousands of miles from MN. Not worth the headache!
    Keep the news coming as it is my way of still being connected to MN. Best wishes in the coming week!!!

    • Paula, I grew up with an outhouse, too.

      Thanks for your take on things in the Netherlands. Store shelves continue to empty here. The clerk at Walgreens told me this morning that the buying frenzy started this week. They were expecting hand sanitizer and toilet paper on a truck today. None. The next truck is due in a week.

      You made the right decision to cancel your trip back to MN.

  6. Brian Says:

    I remember reading a story about rationing during World War 2. The story teller, a boy during that time, remembered the day his father said let’s go fill up the car and go for a spin. Unheard of during the war and the young boys life. When they got to the filling station (when was the last time you heard or used that term?) the gas station attendant who’s job was to pump gas, wash your windows, and ask if you would like your oil checked, asked the father if he wanted it filled. The dad said “Yes, and spill some on the ground). Such was the feeling after going with a little or none of the essentials during a time of crisis. While the Coronavirus has affected the world in a way I’ve never seen in my 60 years I know this too shall pass. And one day we’ll share stories with the next generation that they can only imagine.

  7. Littlesundog Says:

    We are experiencing the same things here noted in above comments. I have heard the same reports of “out of stock” and price gouging from my family in Nebraska.I’m beginning to feel good about my small grocery store here at the house! I also did a little research on alternatives to toilet paper (thank you Writer of Words!) and have noted that if things come to that type of situation, we have plenty of options to toilet paper here on our place! I’ve never considered myself a doomsday prepper, but I realize I’m more prepared for this widespread virus thanks to growing up with the mentality of “always be prepared”.

  8. Sandra Van Erp Says:

    Good post…..Looks like the Radio Club got streaming up just in time. Proud of SSM, but would expect nothing less. 70 intl students stayed here too. The tp thing is – I hope – going to be the long standing joke of this experience. We beat the other bugs, this too shall pass, to quote my mother. I love that Italy is getting so much press for their neighborhood singing. Now if it weren’t so cold here! At least no big snows to contend with!

  9. Brian Says:

    Just received word that we will have online church services tomorrow, same with our son’s church.

    • Same for both our daughters, who attend churches in downtown St. Paul and in Madison, Wisconsin. We’re not there yet with our church. But I know my eldest is not happy that we likely will attend morning services.

  10. Almost Iowa Says:

    Uh… something that is not really been reported is the apparent uptick in guns and ammo sales in the Midwest. It is mostly anecdotal but if it is true, the numbers should be reflected next month in the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) report found here

    I am not convinced that firearms are required to protect one’s TP hoard – but I guess some people are.

  11. Philip Holum Says:

    I have 4 rolls of 1250 sheets each. That’s what I always keep on hand and I’m happy with that. I was slightly amused at Wal-Mart Saturday. I went there to buy one of those small 2 pound bags of all-purpose flour, as I wanted to make 7 layer bars for the weekend. The entire flour section was wiped out. I wondered to myself if everybody was planning on suddenly baking all their bread to get through the next few weeks. What ARE they going to do with all that flour and where are they going to put it? I’ll do fine without the 7-layer bars.

  12. I know people that can’t find eggs right now either. Stay safe, Audrey. ❤

  13. God Bless Says:

    If you cannot buy commercial cleaners, I suggest to go online and look for DIY recipes. There may be products available if you are willing to make your own. ??

    Some supplies to look for:
    – Rubbing alcohol
    – Witch Hazel
    – Vinegar
    – Baking Soda
    – Bleach
    – Essential Oils
    – Save old bottles for reuse (wash clean)
    -Save fabrics for use as rags

    If rubbing alcohol is not available, try alcohol based mouthwash

  14. Ruth Says:

    Audrey I’m catching up on blog visits and I’m sorry I’ve been so long in coming for a proper visit.

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