APPLETON, Wis. -- A growing number of supermarkets nationwide are heeding the requests of special needs parents and purchasing modified carts that cater to children with disabilities.
"Caroline's Cart" sprung from Alabama inventor Drew Ann Long, who struggled to shop with her special needs daughter in 2008. She since has built a brand that relies on parents to contact their local grocery stores to request the carts.
"We are creating the demand with a network of parents," Long said. "Not one grocery store in the country can say it's in a community without any special needs children. If you make stores accessible, you'll see us."
Sandy Hundsrucker, a Wisconsin mom, e-mailed Festival Foods, a grocer with 19 stores in the state and others in Minnesota, about her son, Will, who has cerebral palsy. It is difficult for him to keep his head upright and to get his legs into a regular cart.
"If you see something out there that could help another family, don't be afraid to ask — the worst they can say is no," Hundsrucker said. "I can go to the grocery store and I don't need a stroller where I can only fit a gallon of milk or I can't buy dog food or anything else. It saves on the number of trips and having to leave William home with dad or taking turns going out shopping."
After receiving a pair of requests at two stores, Festival decided to equip each store with a cart.
"We strive to have a shopping experience that makes it enjoyable for everyone and when you have someone in the family who isn't given the ability to do that, we wanted to make that experience available for them," said Kelly Poppele, a company spokeswoman.
The $850 cart offers handles that swing back to provide access to a seat; a seat angle that is adjustable for children with low muscle tone; a harness to keep the child secure in the cart; and a platform for a foot rest.
The company's Facebook page has more than 10,000 members, and stores have taken notice. Long recently pitched the carts to a European conference in Germany and says he she received inquiries from New Zealand, Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Long said the company sells to some big names in the grocery industry, such as Kroger, ShopRite, Publix, Martin's and Albertsons.
Kroger, the nation's largest grocer with 2,400 stores, purchases the carts after stores are contacted by customers contact stores, said company spokesman Keith Dailey.
Hundsrucker said she'd like to see Caroline's Cart common in every grocery setting.
"There's no reason why every store shouldn't have it."
Scott Dahl, president and chief executive of North Carolina company, Technibilt Ltd., which produces the carts, said orders ramped up to all-time highs in 2014.
"We are confident that the retailers are quickly recognizing the need for such a product and we have experienced a large increase in both interest and orders over the last two months," Dahl said in an e-mail.
Penzenstadler also reports for The (Appleton, Wis.) Post-Crescent. Contributing: Nathan Phelps, Green Bay Press Gazette.