Shoppers with special-needs kids get some help at Martin’s grocery chain

The carts have a molded plastic seat, a harness, and a brake.

Posted on Jan. 5, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

ELKHART — A specially designed grocery cart is making shopping possible again for a local mom.

Christa Crawford of Granger has two daughters with special needs. Ellie, 10, and Alexa, 14, cannot sit up or stand on their own — they usually sit in a wheeled device that Crawford has to push, along with a grocery cart.

As a result, Crawford rarely took her daughters shopping with her — “I had to get everything done while they were in school,” she said.

But now, Crawford uses a cart that’s designed for special-needs children.

The carts, called “Caroline’s Carts,” have a molded plastic chair with safety belts, and a brake that can be used when putting people in the seat. They have been available at Martin’s Super Markets since late November 2013.

“It’s a nice option to have, to be able to bring them,” Crawford said during a shopping trip with her daughters on Thursday, Jan. 2. “(Ellie) is facing me, and we can talk back and forth, or I can clap her hand.”

Martin’s ordered the special carts for all its stores at Crawford’s request, though Martin’s operations specialist Don Loutzenhiser said he had already been searching for a cart to meet the needs of customers who have children with special needs.

Crawford said that she heard of Caroline’s Carts several months ago, but didn’t have the courage to approach a store and ask for them. She was finally inspired to approach Martin’s with the support of her daughter’s Girl Scouts troop. The troop was looking for a project to help the girls understand disabilities and decided that convincing Martin’s to get Caroline’s Carts would be the goal.

“This fall, (Loutzenhiser) called me and said they got (a cart), and he wanted us to test it out,” Crawford said.

She was surprised because she thought the Girl Scouts troop would need to raise money to help buy the carts. But Martin’s purchased them as part of the company’s commitment to “do something for that community that needs something a little bit different to shop,” Loutzenhiser said.

“I’ve never seen a cart like this,” he added. “The beauty of it is that it was designed for special-needs children, but it could fit up to 250 pounds. So it could work for anyone with limited mobility.”

He also pointed out some of the features of the cart — the wheels can be locked, cart handles can swing open to allow for easy access to the seat, and there’s a five-point harness available so children can be strapped in.

Crawford said she’s eager to let other families in the area know about the carts — and she thinks it’s something other major retailers should look into.

“Now I don’t feel like (shopping) has to be a limited trip, and it doesn’t have to be rushed,” Crawford said, adding that she had previously only gone to stores that have a drive-through so she didn’t have to wrestle with her daughter’s strollers and a cart.

Loutzenhiser said that every store has one Caroline’s Cart. It’s located with the other shopping carts, and it’s clearly marked. He said that if the carts are used enough, the company may order more. Martin’s is the only major retailer to offer these carts in every store, though a Kroger representative said that use of Caroline’s Carts is being tested in some Cincinnati stores.

A spokesperson for Target said the store has no plans to introduce Caroline’s Carts, and Walmart did not respond to multiple requests for information on its plans regarding the carts.

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