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Homegrown Maui Facebook group helps shoppers save time and sanity

In the era of COVID-19, there’s no such thing as a quick trip to the store. A shopping excursion requires even more forethought: Wallet? Check. Face mask? Check. Hand sanitizer? Check. Patience to wait in a socially distanced checkout line? Check.

Given the time and effort involved, there may be nothing more frustrating than discovering the one item you desperately wanted is sold out. That’s why Leilani Gando Santiago created the Maui Grocery Stores Updates Facebook group on March 23, two days before Hawaii’s stay-at-home order went into effect.

For years the Lahaina resident has journeyed to Kahului to load up on essentials at Costco and other stores, so she knows firsthand the exasperation of a fruitless shopping trip. And in the midst of a pandemic, she said, “I did not want to get frustrated with finding items … and I wanted to avoid going to more than one store.”

With that in mind, Santiago created the Facebook group that relies on crowdsourcing to share what’s available — or not — on store shelves. She invited all of her friends to join, who then invited their friends, and Maui Grocery Stores Updates took on a life of its own.

In less than two weeks, the group had gained 1,500 members. It now has more than 8,400.

Throughout the day, group members report the whereabouts of high-demand or hard-to-find items. They usually snap a photo of the item and provide helpful information such as the store name, day and time the item was spotted, its location within the store and whether there’s a purchase limit.

Some posts are short and to the point: “Anyone looking for Clorox wipes 7-11 has some in,” and “I forgot to take pics but A LOT of Lysol spray at Lowe’s as soon you enter to your right.”

Others are more detailed: “Maui Lani Safeway has a lot of hand sanitizer at the register and Wet Ones hand sanitizer wipes. They also occasionally have 70% isopropyl alcohol at their pharmacy if you ask. Be safe everybody.”

Those in search of items can post an inquiry: “Can someone tell me if Costco has heavy whipping cream and lettuce?” “Any recommendations on where to buy face shields?” or “Anyone know where I can find galangal (Thai ginger)? Thanks in advance!”

Nearly every query receives a lightning-fast reply.

And on occasion the seekers become finders. “I’m on the hunt for rubbing alcohol! If u see any please let me know … 9:20 update: I’ve been to Maui Lani Longs & Maui Lani Walgreens, Wal­mart, Target, Kahului Longs, Maui Lani Safeway. Nothing. Found a couple bottles at Tamura’s Wailuku, only 10 bottles maybe. No limit. I just bought a couple in case others need. Still have.”

At times a post will veer off-topic, but as long as it abides by the house rule of “let’s keep it related to the group,” no one seems to mind. In fact, members “like” and “love” heartening messages like this one: “A tiny bit off subject but cheers to the hard work all our stores employees had to go through to make sure we stay safe. I just only hope people would respect the distancing, the aisle arrows, etc. Follow directions and we all can stay safe. Oh yes and keep your masks on correctly. Be kind.”

To join the group, search Facebook for “Maui Grocery Stores Updates.”

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