Customers line up outside of the Ellsworth Walmart on Thursday. A new crowd-sourced app lets people report where toilet paper and other necessities are in stock during the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

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A couple of weeks ago, as the country was fixated on shortages of products including toilet paper and hand sanitizer, Chris Violette’s co-worker had an idea that wasn’t entirely serious.

“He joked, ‘What if there was a crowd-sourcing app for reporting toilet paper stock?’” the web designer said Saturday. “We bantered about it a little bit, and I got to thinking about it. I mentioned it to my brother, and he said, ‘That’s not a bad idea — I think you should run with it.’”

That’s just what Violette, 35, who grew up in Medway, did. Four days of hard work later, the first version of the website was launched. It has a simple goal: to allow people to help each other find necessary supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

By having many people update the website with available supplies and their locations, Violette hopes they will more easily and quickly vital supplies that they need, like flour, eggs, milk, disinfectant wipes and, yes, toilet paper.

Just a week and a half after launching the website, which is free to use, he estimates that people have submitted thousands of reports from stores that are located in more than 200 locations around the country.

“It took off relatively quickly — quicker than I expected,” he said. “I’m glad that people have found it useful. I thought it might have potential, and might be a good idea. If it helps a few people, that’s good. Right now, it’s helping a lot more people than I expected.”

Violette designed it in his free time at his home in Cleveland, Ohio, where he and his fiance moved from Maine about a year and a half ago. Other than a couple of media reports in Cleveland and Sacramento, California, news of the website has mostly spread by word of mouth. So far, the map where crowd-sourced information is posted on shows that it’s being used in places as far-flung as California, Colorado, Texas and Massachusetts, and as close to home as Bangor and Medway.

In all those places and many others, people who shop are sharing information about what they’re finding with strangers — in other words, doing something that is really the opposite of hoarding. But Violette, who graduated from the University of Maine, said that he has been concerned that the website might have another effect, to give people information that they might use to go out and hoard useful supplies.

“It does have the potential for abuse. We’re trying to make it obvious that we’re trying to help each other here,” he said. “We’re trying to keep people from having to travel from store to store to buy these essential items, in order to minimize their exposure [to the coronavirus].”

[How to make your food last during the coronavirus] is a work in progress, he said, and he’s been getting feedback from users about how it could be improved.

“I’m trying to fix issues as best I can and as quickly as possible,” Violette said. “I’m just one person doing this in my spare time.”

He’s also thinking of it more as a service than as an opportunity to make a buck, although he has put a button on the site where people can donate money.

He knows that the more it grows, the better it will be for users.

“I hope it helps as many people as possible to stay safe and stay home as much as possible,” he said. “And when they go out, it minimizes their time out in the world.”

Watch: 6 ways you can prevent COVID-19