Lori Reick, 46, from North Fayette, spends nearly seven hours a day shopping. She hits the Costco, Sam’s Club, Target, Aldi and Shop N’ Save weekly, sometimes several times.

As a shopper for grocery delivery services Instacart and Shipt, Ms. Reick heads to the store to pick up essentials for people willing to pay a little extra to avoid the shopping trip.

She started doing the work in March after losing her office job, and she isn’t slowing down any time soon.

“For me, this has been a life-changer,” she said. “If [the demand] keeps going and the companies keep thriving, it would be something I would [continue to] do because it’s a freedom, and I’m making the money I want to make.”

With a surge in usage amid COVID-19, consumers can now get everything from groceries to pizza to mascara delivered to their front door through various apps powered by gig workers who do the shopping and the delivering.

Instacart reported app downloads grew 218% from February to March 15, 2020, according to a study from market and consumer data platform Statista.

DoorDash recorded 543 million total orders for the first nine months of 2020, up from 181 million in the same time period in 2019, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In its most recent earnings report, Uber Eats said delivery bookings grew 135% in the third quarter compared to the same period last year. Revenue for deliveries that quarter grew 190% to $1.1 billion from $392 million in 2019.

While many people are staying home, drivers and shoppers like Ms. Reick are taking the risk to pick up milk and toilet paper for customers, even as COVID-19 case counts continue to rise.

“It’s a little hairy sometimes,” she said. “And now it’s getting kind of creepy.”

Overall, though, she feels safe shopping amid the pandemic. Since March, she only recalls two instances of people not wearing a mask inside a store.

She worries more about the usual concerns — unruly dogs and unruly customers — and seasonal concerns such as the roads, driveways and doorsteps are getting icy.

Ms. Reick started shopping in March after she lost her job at a periodontal office. She had a chance to go back to the office in the summer, and she did briefly just to help out her employer, but she enjoys the flexibility of gig work. It allows her to more easily care for her three children and rush them to a doctor’s or dentist appointment when needed.

As a gig worker, she can rule her own world, Ms. Reick says.

She can even decide to skip out on houses that she knows haven’t tipped her for her delivery service in the past.

“But for the most part, I’d say most people — especially around the holidays — are becoming very generous,” she said. “Humanity’s still hanging in there for a little bit.”

Ms. Reick plans to keep shopping even after state officials ease COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.

The surge of COVID-19 cases — and the tips from grateful customers looking to stay safely inside as much as possible — may not continue, but she expects some shoppers will drop off the service, too, leaving more orders for herself and other remaining workers to pick up.

*By Lauren Rosenblatt, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette*