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Two special-needs carts help Hill AFB shoppers

Tech. Sgt. Scott Heim, a member of the 388th Equipment Maintenance Squadron, his spouse Wendy, daughter Brieanna and family pet Emily use a Caroline’s Cart during a visit to the Base Exchange at Hill Air Force Base Feb. 4. A Caroline's Cart is built with a roomy seat and adjustable harness designed to ease the shopping experience for families with a special needs member. Hill AFB started seeking a Caroline's Cart for the base in June 2014 after hearing about the product from special needs families. The Commissary purchased one in October 2015 and it has benefited many families since. (U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Cromar)

Tech. Sgt. Scott Heim, a member of the 388th Equipment Maintenance Squadron, his spouse Wendy, daughter Brianna and her service dog Emily use a Caroline’s Cart during a visit to the Base Exchange at Hill Air Force Base Feb. 4. A Caroline's Cart is built with a roomy seat and adjustable harness designed to ease the shopping experience for families with a special needs member. Hill AFB started seeking a Caroline's Cart for the base in June 2014 after hearing about the product from special needs families. The Commissary purchased one in October 2015 and it has benefited many families since. (U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Cromar)

Holly Brown and her children Evan and Cailyn use a Caroline’s Cart during a visit to the Base Exchange at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Feb. 4. A Caroline's Cart is built with a roomy seat and adjustable harness designed to ease the shopping experience for families with a special needs member. The Brown’s husband and father is Lt. Col. Cory Brown of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center. (U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Cromar)

Holly Brown and her children Evan and Cailyn use a Caroline’s Cart during a visit to the Base Exchange at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Feb. 4. A Caroline's Cart is built with a roomy seat and adjustable harness designed to ease the shopping experience for families with a special needs member. The Brown’s husband and father is Lt. Col. Cory Brown of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center. (U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Cromar)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- For many years, Wendy Heim would grocery shop at the Commissary or Base Exchange on Hill AFB with her young daughter without any problems, setting her in the designated seat for children.

However, as her daughter grew older and outgrew the grocery cart, shopping became more challenging. Her now-10-year-old daughter has a rare metabolic disorder that affects her fine gross motor skills and speech, so she is not able to walk on her own.

Trying to push her daughter's wheelchair and a grocery cart proved impossible, so for a while Wendy would put her daughter in the basket of the grocery cart, but then there wouldn't be any room for the groceries, and Heim would get curious glances from other customers.

"It's always a struggle. When people look at her, they can't see her disability unless you see her move or talk, so they wonder why I'm shoving my child into the cart," Heim said.

After hearing about similar grocery-shopping experiences from families on base, Hill AFB started looking into Caroline's Carts, a shopping cart specifically designed for families with a special-needs member; child or adult.

The Commissary purchased one a few months ago for their customers to use, and recently the Northern Wasatch Association of Realtors purchased another cart for the base.

Tammy Custer with Hill's Airmen and Family Readiness Center points out that families on base may have children with spinal muscular atrophy or cerebral palsy who do not need a wheelchair, but a long shopping trip may be too much for their muscles or legs to handle.

"Another thing people may not have thought about are kids with autism or other intellectual or sensory issues that may run off without notice and worst of all, without fear. These parents need the ability to strap larger children in with a harness to ensure their safety, since regular shopping cart seats don't fit kids much beyond three years old," Custer said.

"Just because someone sitting in the cart may not appear to have a disability does not mean they don't. Let's make sure nobody tries to police them. It would be very embarrassing for the family to be questioned on this and have to tell a stranger why they need it."

For the Heim family, the cart has been hugely beneficial. No longer does Heim have to go grocery shopping in short spurts to fit only a few things in the cart around her daughter, or go grocery shopping as a family so someone can push her wheelchair or help with her walker. It would have made grocery shopping during her husband's deployment a few months ago so much easier, she said.

"Now it is so much easier and nice to have a safe and comfortable place for her to sit. We used to bring in our coats or blankets placed over the metal in the basket for her to sit on," Heim said. "It handles like a dream, with two handles that rotate and pull out so you can strap your child in with a five-point harness, then you bring the handles back down."

Custer said it is Hill AFB's goal to make shopping easier for families.

"Those of us that don't have a family member in need of something like this take shopping on a whim for granted. These families often have to make a plan in advance just to deal with the logistics," Custer said. "I am incredibly thankful to Northern Wasatch Association of Realtors for making this happen."

(No federal endorsement of the business mentioned in this article is intended.)