I still get a little nervous pulling into the Aldi parking lot, fresh on the heels of our recent local tragedy. The kids and I pile out of the minivan like clowns coming out of a Smart Car and I repeatedly shout “Hold Hands!” in an overly harsh tone as we walk by the wreathes and grab our shopping cart. Being with them in the parking lot has me extra on edge. My son even asks me about the shrine, and I tell him; “someone got hurt here and we want to remember her.” He hangs his head acknowledging that something really sad happened here, but then he pulls his quarter out and gets excited to put it in the slot. The exchange of coins always excites the kids.
About one month ago our local Aldi had a pedestrian homicide in the parking lot. It’s being called first-degree murder and it rocked me to my core. We were supposed to have been shopping there that morning, but my husband convinced me to sit down, relax, and have a cup of coffee before we headed to Aldi to restock on groceries for the week. The story of a life lost is tragic and heartbreaking, but I am amazed at how so much good shines through despite the bad things that happen.
Have you ever shopped in an Aldi? The first time I was really uncomfortable and intimidated. I needed a quarter for a shopping cart (where do you put a quarter in a cart?!) and my own bags for my groceries (which I did not have…hence I found a pickled and rotted cucumber under my front seat a week later). This simple and conservative flow annoyed me at first. My big city upbringing expected someone to bag for me and carts to be free. Bringing my own bags was such “a pain” (insert current day me eye-rolling at her old self). But our finances had changed and we needed to shop for less. So I ended up at Aldi.
It was quickly apparent that the culture was special. It wasn’t just Aldi itself, it was what Aldi was doing to the people shopping there. Looking for something that’s moved? The store is small so an employee is always visible or nearby. Need more veggies in your life? They’re priced low so you can stay healthy. Don’t want to spend hours of your day shopping? Again, store is small. Get the essentials and get back to life quickly. No extra junk to distract you. Have seventy-five thousand (an example of the exaggerated numbers my son uses while shopping) items in your cart? The person in line behind you naturally sets down the divider far behind you and gives you time and space to unpack onto the belt. Got kids sitting in the cart (um, always!)? The cashier will almost always offer to move carts around at checkout to help me avoid shuffling around the twins. Run out of bags? There are empty cardboard containers you can reuse to help the environment. The moments of recycling items, recycling energy, and spreading positivity are abound at the store. Sure, there are some outliers, hasty people caught in negative habits who cut line once in a blue moon, but for the most part, shopping at Aldi forces people to connect, engage, and have HUMAN interactions.
People live such fast paced lived that we all feel the need to order our groceries online and pay someone to deliver them and unpack them in our pantries (is that a thing yet?). But what we really need is to slow down, talk to people in the community, and help each other out. We don’t need bigger flashier stores (you know the ones I’m talking about), we need more stores that focus on recycling and reusing, simplicity and basics, and clean, whole foods.
Let me tell you one last reason that I LOVE Aldi. If you shop there you’ve seen this. As someone is starting to return their cart to the store to get their quarter back, someone else stops them and says, “I’m going in, I’ll take your cart and give you my quarter!” This is SO kind! But then 90% of the time the other person says, “No worries, keep the quarter!” And more kindness spreads. One day I did it and then the person after me did it, and I wondered, “I bet this will continue all day with only one quarter being used…” Paying it forward…something that doesn’t apply to money, but rather good deeds.
Last week, I was shopping and my kids were not exactly behaving well. I was eager to get them in the car and get them home for lunch and naps. In my fast-paced desire to be done with shopping, I didn’t do my tasks in order and I unloaded and buckled all three kids in their car seats before unloading the groceries. I realized this halfway through putting the groceries in the trunk. “Noooooo!” my mind was yelling. I knew that in this day and age I couldn’t leave kids in the car, even for 1 minute, so I would have to unbuckle them all, cross the parking lot with the cart + 4yo, 2yo, 2yo in tow, return the cart, and then truck ourselves back to the car to start the battle of buckling everyone in AGAIN. I must have been wearing the anxiety on my sleeve, because another woman a few cars down, starting to bring her own cart in, detoured over and offered to bring my cart back.
I’m not good as accepting help, but I jumped on this one. I was just SO tickled that someone would think to do this for me! She offered me a quarter from her wallet in exchange for my cart. I started to decline, but she insisted so I took it. Major regret! I wish I hadn’t (pay it forward, right?!) but it’s too late now. She told me her kids were once all around the same ages of my kids and that life with so many littles was hard. She knew what it was like to be in my shoes and wanted to help (heart melting AGAIN just thinking of her kindness). She drove off before I finished getting my groceries unpacked (doing anything takes us FOREVER), and so I got a chance to thank her one more time as she got in her car.
We finished up and left soon after ourselves. Again, driving by the tragically beautiful shrine of flowers at the place where a woman recently lost her life. I sighed as we drove home, taking in the irony. How beauty and horror can exist in one place. But for the most part, there is a lot of beauty, a lot of kindness, and a lot of joy than can be spread in tiny simple actions. So the next time you go to the store, drive slowly, take your time, smile at people around you, and try to spread one act of kindness to the members of your community.