When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in early 2020, it brought product shortages and supply chain issues that persist to this day.
But the Sam's Club in Columbia, Missouri, provides an added service to its members ever since the troubles began, thanks to one dedicated employee seen as a retail hero in the community.
When nationwide toilet paper and paper towel shortages hit as COVID first broke, longtime Sam's worker Chris Bell decided to take action after waves of customers left the Columbia store in disappointment when they showed up and discovered no paper products were available.
"We just couldn't keep it stocked, kept running out of toilet paper and running out of paper towels," Bell told FOX Business. "People would come in here looking for it, and I could just see the look of devastation on their faces when they couldn't find it. I felt so bad for them. I said, 'There's got to be something I can do.'"
Bell then found a newly-formed Facebook group called "Work together in the community – Columbia, Missouri," where members could seek and provide help for those in need during the pandemic.
"The next paper truck we got in, which was 600 units of paper towels and 600 units of toilet paper, I took a picture of it, posted on that group and [customers] were lined up at the door to get in and get it," Bell said. "And then it just took off from there. Every time the paper truck would come in, I'd take a picture of it and post it to the group."
Soon, shortages of other goods and categories emerged, so Bell added the sought-after items to his posts to let folks know what was or wasn't in stock. After the paper product shortages, cleaning products and nitrile gloves were soon in short supply.
As the supply chain disruptions have persisted for more than two years, so does Bell. He now provides daily updates for roughly 15 items to the Facebook group that is now 16,400 members strong.
Each time Bell posts an update to the group, members reply, expressing their gratitude. In one of his recent messages, amid the waves of thank-yous, one group member wrote, "We are blessed to have you in our community!" Another called Bell "a prince."
Bell says the first inventory he looks at daily these days is baby formula amid that ongoing shortage.
"There are so many mothers that are asking for it," Bell said.
Other highly sought-after items often out of stock include Uncrustables, corn dogs, and dog foods. On the day FOX Business visited the store, there was no pasta on the shelves. A few days prior, the store didn't have sugar.
Bell says customers are grateful not only to find out what's in stock but also to learn what isn't available. It saves them from making a wasted trip. He said many of the Columbia store's members live several miles out of town, and with the elevated price of gas, his service is saving a ton of trips.
It takes Bell roughly 10 minutes each day to post the information, and he fields customer inquiries on Facebook through the private Facebook group and via direct message.
Like its customers, Sam's Club appreciates the extra effort Bell puts in. Months ago, Bell received a call from Sam's Club CEO Kathryn McLay, who thanked him for providing the added service for shoppers.
"Sam’s Club is focused on delivering an exceptional experience to our members, and we couldn’t do it without our amazing associates," a spokesperson said in a statement. "Chris Bell is an example of an associate going above and beyond to serve our members and his community. We’re grateful to have him as part of our Sam’s Club family."
Bell says he'll continue making his daily inventory posts until he retires, likely four or five years from now.
"I really enjoy the interaction with our members," he said.