I started working at my local grocery store almost two years ago. What began as a way to put myself through the final two years of my undergraduate degree ended up becoming one of the best decisions I made. Not only have I gained valuable leadership experience, I’ve also become part of a strong community that depends on one another. Our team works long hours to ensure that our customers are being taken care of. We prioritize the needs of our community over the needs of ourselves, because that is simply what you do for your neighbors. To top it off, members of my team are some of the most genuine, creative and dedicated individuals that I have the privilege of knowing. They are parents, students, small business owners, hobbyists and dreamers. And right now, they are afraid.
Like many other grocery store employees, our crew has been shell-shocked and shaken by the events of COVID-19. What began as a potential threat weeks ago has now completely inundated our community. The first week Utah officially declared a state of emergency, we saw the fear in our neighbors’ eyes as they flooded through the shelves, filling carts more fully than we had ever seen- even over holidays- but with far less glee. They raced to the checkout lines that wrapped around the store and stopped only when we closed. This continued again beginning the next morning. Our tiny neighborhood grocery store, an escape and sanctuary for many on a regular day, suddenly turned into chaos.
Our crew rose to the challenge. We greeted each overflowing cart and customer with as much optimism as we could muster. We restocked shelves, and they emptied again. For days this continued and still we came to work with smiles on our faces. These days we have been taking extra precautions such as limiting the number of people in the store to encourage social distancing. We sanitize every cart and basket to give to customers as they walk through the doors. We wipe down registers in between transactions. We allow our elderly neighbors extra time in the morning to shop for what they need. In the breakroom, we rub salve on our knuckles that crack and bleed from handwashing dozens of times a day. If we fall, we help each other rise back up. Some days are easier than others, but at the very least we have each other.
I share these experiences with you, dear readers, not to induce sympathy but instead to ask for your help. We have seen an unprecedented amount of traffic in our stores, and are desperately trying to keep both ourselves and our customers safe. When grocery shopping, these are just a few steps that should be taken to avoid exposing yourself or others at this time:
- The CDC recommends limiting shopping trips to only essential outings to reduce the spread of COVID-19. If you must go out, remember to have patience, as many places are indeed limiting the amount of customers in their stores.
- When stocking up, please take only what you need and be mindful of others who may need the same product. This is particularly important for small grocery stores that do not have the infrastructure to restock their shelves immediately.
- Avoid paying with cash unless absolutely necessary. If you bring your own reusable bags, be prepared to bag your purchases yourself. Otherwise, opt for the store’s paper bags at this time which can still be recycled or reused.
- If you are elderly, immunocompromised, or symptomatic, have someone do the shopping for you or place your order online. You may call the store for assistance.
- Lastly but certainly not least, remember to thank your grocery store clerks for being at work. They are risking their health and the health of their families daily in order to feed and supply our communities. Many of them have children home from school that depend on them, or older relatives that they might be living with. They, like many of us, have had to postpone weddings, trips to see family and friends, and other major life events.
These are unpredictable, often frightening times and we have to remember to take care of each other. But at the end of the day, hope and unity are more contagious than a virus will ever be. As the hubs and spokes of our wheels continue to turn, may we remember to support everyone in the service industry at the center of this pandemic. Stay well, readers.
*Note: If you or anyone you know has permanently or temporarily lost their job at this time, many grocery stores are accepting applications. Check with your local stores either in person or online to inquire and submit an application.