CINCINNATI -- Shopping in itself can be stressful. Shopping with young children can be taxing. But for some families, shopping with a relative who is elderly or who has special needs could prove nearly impossible.
"Caroline's Cart," an invention that's catching fire throughout the country in popular grocery chains, has been striving to solve this problem and make shopping enjoyable for everyone.
Target is the latest chain to purchase Caroline's Carts for its locations around Cincinnati, following in the footsteps of hundreds of other retailers in the Tri-State.
The cart, which can found at a variety of stores such as Kroger, Meijer, Sam's Club and Fresh Thyme Market, features a spacious seat embedded into a large cart, facing the person pushing the cart. Similar to a backward-facing stroller, the seat with a five-point harness allows people with special needs to interact with their caregiver in a comfortable and secure position.
The cart was invented by Drew Ann Long, a mother of three who struggled to take her daughter with Rett syndrome as well as her two other kids to the store and complete her shopping.
"If you have a child with a disability, that really does make the everyday trip to the store very difficult, very burdensome," she explained in an interview. "I remember desperately struggling with a wheelchair, a 2-year-old and a shopping cart and I thought, 'There's such a huge gap in the market.'"
Long explained that around age 6 or 7, children who don't walk, have low muscle tone or need further assistance in a store have few options. One of the features she created was a maneuverable chair that, unlike a wheelchair, accommodates the person in it as well as a large load of groceries and can turn easily.
Long paired with a company called Technibilt to create the wheelchair, which is now serving over 1 million families across the country.
Britt Underwood of Loveland has used the cart with her son Calvin, a 4-year-old with a genetic condition called Mandibulofacial dysostosis with microcephaly. Caroline's Cart is beneficial for Calvin, she said, who needs the cart because his legs fall asleep in the typical cart due to the weight of his orthotic braces. Underwood added that her son's shoes and orthotics make it hard to get in and out as well.
She has been able to access the cart at Meijer, Fresh Thyme and Target, but said she wishes there were multiple available at each store.
Underwood has also noticed that some families have shown a lack of sensitivity while using the cart for their non-disabled children. She has seen the cart being used as a regular cart for families with multiple children, sitting two to three children in the large seat.
"There is a giant special needs label on all of them. After asking a family if they knew that was for disabled people they continued to use their cart their entire trip. So I don't think they cared," Underwood said. "I wish more people knew not to use them because we need them, and others need them."
As Calvin grows out of the ability to use a regular cart, Underwood said she has concerns about not being able to push a normal cart and a wheelchair around a store.
"It just doesn't work," she said.
For Melissa Eldridge and her 7-year-old son who has fragile X syndrome, Caroline's Cart has been a "lifesaver" during their trips to the Hamilton Kroger. She called to request the carts at her store, Eldridge said, and after "some time" they finally arrived.
"He is best described as a child with autistic tendencies. He has a lot of sensory issues and the grocery store can be a very overwhelming place for him," she said of her son. "The carts help keep him contained and keep him from hurting himself. If he were sitting in the back of a regular cart, not only would I have nowhere to put my groceries, but he would most likely try to stand up and fall."
In addition to making the shopping physically safer, Eldridge said her son also feels emotionally safer in a potentially stressful setting.
"The cart also keeps him comfortable in many ways: when people stare at him it upsets him a lot, and the tall sides give him a place to duck down and hide away," she said.
Eldridge, among others, said she wished all stores had the cart available, as it has become a necessity for shopping with her son.
"Before the Caroline's Carts, I was at my wit's end with shopping with my son. It was so upsetting for him and myself, I would just break down and cry right there in the store," Eldridge said. "Now, the Caroline's Cart has helped us live a more 'normal' life, and I honestly couldn't be more grateful for them."
To check whether your local store has a Caroline's Cart, click here.