Toilet paper

Our church holds its annual meeting at the end of January, which means that newly-elected officers start their terms in February. February and March are filled with meetings where people are learning about their new roles in the church. Most of the orientation for folks new to their jobs comes from those who have been doing he job before them. Our Departments are structured so that about one third of each group changes each year with the other two thirds continuing terms. The transition usually feels pretty gradual. But there re some learning curves. Sometime within the last month I was in the storage room of the church with one of the people who will be responsible for stocking the janitorial supplies. He noted that there were two kinds of toilet paper on the shelves and commented, “I was told that the preschoolers need special paper that is softer than the rest of us use.” I’ve been in this church for 25 years and have been through two major bathroom remodeling projects. Only two of the bathrooms in the church are in their original configuration from before I was pastor. I had a completely different explanation for why there were two types of paper.

Here is the story as I remember it. We had switched vendors for paper products and the new vendor was pushing larger, coreless rolls that didn’t have to be replaced as often. As an incentive they were giving new dispensers to the church and even installing them without charge. The day the representative of the paper company came to install the new dispensers, the preschool was filled with children and so all of the other dispensers were replaced, but he bathroom in the preschool area was not addressed. A new dispenser was left and I assured the representative that we could install a single dispenser. When I asked a volunteer to replace the dispenser, he did not understand why I was asking him to do so, but being an eager church volunteer, he proceeded to take a look at the situation. Since the existing dispenser was inset into the tile wall and the new one was designed to be surface mounted, he thought, “This new one isn’t right for this room.” He went out and bought another dispenser that fit the hole in the wall, complete with a core that is too big for the new rolls of paper.

A toilet paper dispenser doesn’t inspire much passion in me, so I thanked the volunteer for the work and we’ve continued to stock paper with a larger core for that bathroom ever since. Not being a trained judge of toilet paper, I have no idea whether one type is better or softer or somehow different from the other.

I told my story to the volunteer and a week later I noticed that the room was fully stocked with appropriate paper products. We also have an unheated shed in our parking lot that has several cases of paper from which the closet can be restocked. Looking around at the supplies, it is an impressive amount of toilet paper. I know that a public building with lots of visitors goes through a lot of toilet paper and I also know that the experience of generations of volunteers means that we are sometimes a bit overstocked. It is better to have some on hand than to run short. After all we get all of our crowds on Sundays when there are fewer stores open.

Somehow I was thinking about our supplies at the church yesterday when the conversation turned to the shortage of toilet paper on the shelves in some area stores. Apparently part of the coronavirus scare is that people are afraid of running out of certain household supplies, so they are stocking up, creating temporary distribution shortages. The United States is not short of toilet paper, the increased supplies are just sitting in warehouses as stores ramp up to meet the new larger demand.

Being curious, I took a quick look at the Internet and, sure enough, toilet paper shortages are real and they are pretty much spread around the world with a few exceptions. In Sydney, Australia police were called to a dispute with a knife-wielding customer arguing with other customers in the midst of panic buying. Some stores are placing limits on the number of packages a customer can buy. There are pictures of people with shopping carts filled with dozens and dozens of rolls standing in line at checkout counters. A story tells of armed robbers stealing pallets of toilet paper in Hong Kong.

So I need to report to all concerned that we aren’t experiencing any shortages at the church. There are several cases of products on hand. We appear to be fully stocked. The same thing appears to be the case at our home, as well. In the fall, Susan was hospitalized for a while and my sister and her sisters and our son all came to stay with us and support us. They all were looking for jobs to do and ways to support us and I think that they all went shopping and that each one of them thought, “I’ll pick up some toilet paper so they don’t run out.” Then they all went back to their own homes and there are now just two of us in this house with three bathrooms and copious supplies.

If the shortage grows deeper, we can support our neighbors, though I’m not sure how word gets out who has supplies and who is suffering shortages. It hasn’t become a major topic of conversation in my circles yet.

So far there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Dakotas. Our neighbor to the south, Nebraska has a closet of cases, which so far are all at the opposite end of the state. There is a map on the New York times website just below another map showing the delegate counts from Super Tuesday. Both maps have about the same number of states colored in. In both South Dakota is not colored in. No there is no apparent connection between coronavirus and early primary dates. But we know that it is only a matter of time. It is likely that our state will be affected. When it comes to South Dakota it probably will be a bigger surprise than the count of convention delegates.

At any rate if it appears, we appear to be stocked up on toilet paper. Maybe if shortages get severe we’ll see an increase in attendance so folks can get access to tissue.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!