Jaren Shepherd is a mom on a mission.
The Kendallville woman turned into an activist when she realized her daughter was getting too big to ride in the collapsible child seat found in standard shopping carts.
Addison, now 7, has special needs. She was born without a 10th chromosome, a rare condition. As a result, she is mentally handicapped and almost deaf. The girl has low muscle tone, making sitting upright a struggle, and she wears leg braces.
A couple of years ago, Shepherd started sketching what kind of a shopping cart would be safe for her daughter to ride in. After talking to family members about her project, Shepherd learned that Drew Ann Long, an Alabama mother, had already designed one that can accommodate an older child.
It’s called Caroline’s Cart after Long’s daughter, who also has special needs.
Long worked with a large shopping cart manufacturer, Technibilt, to make Caroline’s Carts according to established safety rules.
The specialty carriages are equipped with a five-point harness, a foot brake and hold individuals weighing up to 250 pounds.
After learning about Caroline’s Carts, Shepherd’s mission morphed into getting one or more of the shopping baskets into her favorite groceries: Scott’s Food & Drugs in Kendallville and Kroger Marketplace on Dupont Road in Fort Wayne.
The part-time preschool teacher could hire a baby sitter for Addison every time she went shopping, but that would get expensive. Also, Shepherd didn’t want to deprive her daughter of outings.
She loves to go shopping. That’s, like, her favorite thing to do, Shepherd says. A lot of special needs children like to shop because of the colors and lights and stuff in retail stores.
Kids can also learn about colors, counting and money while on field trips to the store, she says.
Shepherd tried putting Addison in the main section of a shopping cart, but low muscle tone made it difficult for the little girl to keep herself upright without proper support. And, the way most other kids would, Addison opened boxes and bags of food when her mother’s back was turned.
You’re limited in what you can buy, Shepherd says. She was getting into everything.
So Shepherd talked to the managers in her Scott’s and Kroger stores about Caroline’s Carts. These days, she praises the managers for being attentive and taking notes on her request. But that’s only after some frustrating months spent waiting.
John Elliott, Kroger spokesman, says Kroger is a big corporation that tries not to act like one.
Thankfully, it doesn’t happen as often as you might think that someone has to make several phone calls before getting an issue resolved, he says .
The retailer, which owns Scott’s stores, first did a pilot test in some Ohio stores.
Kroger, like any company, has to be careful about liability and safety, Elliott says.
But now that protocol has been followed, Caroline’s Carts are authorized equipment for every Kroger-owned store, he says.
Each store manager still has to decide whether demand exists at that location. Elliott says that’s the person parents should approach to request one of the specialty carts, which cost $850 each before volume discounts.
We want to make the shopping experience in our stores as pleasant as possible, Elliott says.
Even so, he added, staff can’t always anticipate what problems customers will have. Sometimes shoppers have to clue in managers on the challenges they face.
Just communicate it to us, and we’ll work with them, he says. We’re truly not always aware.
Shepherd says she got tears in her eyes the first time she saw the Caroline’s Carts in her Scott’s and Kroger stores and talked to the managers to thank them for their support.
It’s really an exciting thing, she says. I’m really pleased to see that Kroger opened their aims to accepting these carts. We want to get them placed in stores all over the world.
Elliott says plans now call for the remaining Kroger-owned stores in northeast Indiana to each receive a Caroline’s Cart in the next few months.
The Indianapolis-based spokesman believes Shepherd’s effort probably helped speed up the time it took for Caroline’s Cart to navigate the approval process.
Kroger is the largest of several chains to approve use of the carts and was one of the first retailers to contact its inventor.
Long, who designed the cart, is grateful for Kroger’s support, which she called fantastic. Long also praised Shepherd’s efforts.
She was very diligent. She never gave up, Long says. Demand is key. Caroline’s Cart is 100 percent demand-driven. If you don’t ask for it, you’re not going to get it.
It takes Shepherd’s style of commitment to get things done, Long says.
The No. 1 question that I get is, Why is Caroline’s Cart in so-and-so’s store and not in mine?’ she said. Well, it’s because of people like Jaren.