Winn-Dixie surprises health professionals by paying for their groceries during coronavirus

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The parent company of Winn-Dixie surprised health care workers and first responders at several of its supermarket chains this week by paying for their groceries at the register as a thank you for their frontline work during the coronavirus crisis.

“Our heroic health care professionals and first responders are on the front line every day as they work tirelessly to make our communities safer, and we want to do our part to thank them,” said Anthony Hucker, the president and CEO of Southeastern Grocers.

The surprises went to shoppers at Winn-Dixie, BI-LO, Fresco y Más, and Harveys Supermarket stores in seven southeastern states, according to a press release. The gifts did not include alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets, postage stamps or gift cards.

Videos and photos of the shopping hour show how surprised the first responders and health care workers were – some overjoyed and some brought to the verge of tears.

The chains will all continue to host a designated hour of shopping for first responders and health care workers from 8 to 9 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesday. They also host senior citizens and other at-risk shoppers during the stores’ first hour of business on weekdays.

The company said its decision was inspired by actor and director Tyler Perry, who recently picked up the tabs for elderly and at-risk shoppers at dozens of supermarkets in Georgia and Louisiana – including at 29 Winn-Dixie locations.

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Southeastern Grocers also said its charity foundation donated $250,000 to Feeding America in March – and it is offering 5,000 jobs to people who have seen their hours cut or have been laid off due to nationwide social distancing measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Feeding America, which has 200 food banks in its network, says that many of them are facing spikes in demand – and about 60 percent have supply shortages. It issued a call for donations this week, due to a spike in demand that came as a result of “Never has the charitable food system faced such tremendous challenge, and we need all the resources we can get to help our neighbors during this terrible time,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, the nonprofit’s CEO.

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Earlier this month, Perry left a big thank you to essential workers in Atlanta, with TMZ reporting that he left a $500 tip for each of the 42 out-of-work servers at a Houston’s Restaurant on Sunday.

Perry, a big fan of the chain, left a whopping total of $21,000.

Fox News’ Frank Miles contributed to this report.