( Photo by The Packer staff )

We are social creatures, even the introverts among us. 

Social isolation and loneliness in older people pose health risks such as cognitive decline, depression and heart disease, according to the National Institute on Aging.

With 28% of older U.S. adults living alone, it can be a common problem, and grocery stores can provide a little salve to this wound — even with the rise of online ordering, curbside pickups and automated checkout stations eliminating human cashiers.

The Dutch are doing it.

In the southern Netherlands town of Vlijmenin, one Jumbo Supermarket location helps fight loneliness among older adults with a Chatter Checkout and special Coffee Corner.

People who are so inclined can take this special checkout where the transaction may take a bit longer because the cashier makes time for some chit chat. There’s a sign that says: “Not in a rush but in the mood to chat.”

The All Together Coffee Corner is a place where older, or just lonely, people can meet with volunteers from a local foundation to talk and ask for help with chores.

Many of us are in a rush, and there’s nothing wrong with that for those of us knee-deep into our careers and families with children. People with children 18 and younger, those who work full-time, households that earn $100,000 or more and people 30-49 are more likely than the overall population to use online grocery services, according to a Gallup poll cited in Produce Retailer.

We need this convenience and efficiency so we can have time for connecting with the loved ones surrounding us.

But we have a growing population of older adults who aren’t in a hurry and don’t have as many opportunities for social interaction as younger adults. By 2030, all U.S. baby boomers will be older than 65, which means one in every five residents will be retirement age, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

My mom, who lives with my brother in North Carolina, is 75 and a very social creature who used to have her social needs met at work and in a full home. She still has church, friends and occasional volunteer opportunities, but she and my brother both enjoyed chatting with the same cashier, bagger and customer service desk clerk at their neighborhood Kroger. They went at the same time every week when it wasn’t busy.

“It just gave you a good, friendly feeling,” my mom said during one of our phone calls.

But then that Kroger closed, and the replacement store just doesn’t have the same familiar, friendly vibe. Now, they’ll drive a little farther to go to an Aldi, which has the lower prices, quality and selection they love.

Even though I’m a busy middle-aged person, I appreciate seeing the same faces in my Brooklyn neighborhood grocery store. I will always remember the clerk who found and cut a butternut squash essential to my recipe when I was stressed about hosting a big Thanksgiving dinner. Anytime we run into each other, he actually asks how I’m doing and waits for my answer. 

These personal details matter. It makes me feel like part of my community, even in the crowded Big Apple with its glorified hustle.

As we find evermore convenient ways to serve customers and work smarter, let’s not lose the human touch. We all need it, no matter our age or location.

Amy Sowder is The Packer’s Brooklyn-based Northeast editor. E-mail her at [email protected]

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