AUSTIN (KXAN) — When you spend your days on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic, the last place you want to end up is the back of the line snaking its way through a grocery store parking lot.

A hospital chain with a big presence in Central Texas is providing grocery store staples at a discounted price to employees at pop-up markets so they can spend less time shopping and more time home with their families.

Ascension Seton opened the mini-shops in cafeterias at all their hospitals. The idea started at Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and now the chain is expanding the model to hospitals in 20 states.

“I think this whole pandemic situation has brought forth a lot of creativity from a lot of people,” said Robert Bailey, regional vice president of TouchPoint Support Services, a food service provider that works with Ascension Seton.

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An Ascension Seton employee shops at her hospital’s pop-up market. (Photo Courtesy: Ascension Seton)

“A lot of the objective was to allow these associates to be able to spend a little more time with family instead of having to spend time in the line at the grocery store,” Bailey said.

Hospitals offer the goods to employees at cost, meaning they’re cheaper than grocery stores, too. They provide “toilet paper, of course,” Bailey said. “We sell pasta, pre-made pizzas, eggs, milk” and other staples.

The initiative goes by the name Provisions 1:37, named for the Bible verse Luke 1:37, which reads, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”

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A hospital employee browses the produce selection at the market. (Photo Courtesy: Ascension Seton)

The markets have operated at Texas locations for about the last three weeks, becoming widely popular among all levels of staff, Bailey said. Some hospitals are diversifying their offerings, too.

“It’s evolved into even a farmer’s market,” Bailey said, “so we can use local farms and sell local produce to the associates at a discount as well.”

During these uncertain times, when healthcare workers face judgement and harassment from other shoppers simply for being out in public, the markets provide an extra layer of distance for doctors and nurses, as well as for the general public.

“Hopefully,” Bailey said, “it’s another level of safety we can offer.”

The markets are so popular, the hospital chain wants to keep operating them in its cafeterias even after the pandemic is over.