Lifestyle, Opinions

PERSONAL: The coronavirus panic raises the stakes for grocery store employees

In a time where more than 37 million U.S. jobs may be at risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have had quite the opposite problem. 

I’ve been called a hero by customers for simply doing my weekly produce clerk duties at Sprouts Farmers Market.

Every morning, my phone has been a crisis call center as my managers once again call me on my day off.   

And I couldn’t be more grateful. 

As a full-time student, it can be daunting trying to pick up enough hours to pay bills and balance acceptable grades. Last week I was able to manage to work nearly 50 hours, something I haven’t done since before the start of the semester. 

Coming into work, my biggest concern was my safety and the safety of the customers. 

With nearly half of our customer base being over the median age of 65, I was a little worried.

But the show must go on. And it has.  

To try to mitigate the threat of COVID-19, I strapped on my N-95 mask and nylon-free Dodger- blue gloves.

Coming into work last week allowed me to experience something I’ve yet to see with my own eyes: public mass hysteria.

Think Black Friday shopping, sprinkle in a pinch of global pandemic panic, and you’ve got yourself a cocktail of chaos.  

All week, a majority of shoppers to my amusement panic shopped like they were trying to buy the last hickory honey ham in Tim Allen’s “Christmas With the Kranks.”

The most stressful part of my week surprisingly wasn’t being bombarded constantly about items being sold out, it was having to constantly remind people to practice social distancing. People were in my face, forcing me to wait for them to dig through our displays before I could return to what I was doing.

I was grateful for the people that were polite, but most were not as understanding. 

Come mid-week, my entire produce department was sold out on back-to-back days. People bought so much product that we set a store department record for most sales in a day. 

By the end of the week, I was starting to feel like a soldier who was being thanked for their service. I was stocking shelves like my life depended on it.

Never in my two years of working in the grocery industry have I been thanked for doing my job until last week. 

Recently Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Kroger, Stop & Shop, and Target all offered two weeks of paid time off for workers who test positive for COVID-19 or are placed into quarantine.

Although that’s nice and all, two weeks of paid time off won’t cover the medical bills that will come with contracting the virus.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to keep my department well-stocked.

One Comment

  1. Avatar

    Great essay, Jacob. I’m sure your calm focus was a help to at least some of your customers. I hope the panic shopping is settling down. Stay healthy.

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