Wow. So how about the last week, huh? So many things have happened (and in case you want to read SFR’s COVID-19 coverage, we’re keeping it all here) and it’s likely the world as we know it will never be the same. And as we’re stuck at home doing the social distancing thing that everybody else should also be doing, we couldn’t stop thinking about the people working the front lines at grocery stores. At this particular point in human history, these people are equally as brave as the first responders out there and equally as vital. Many of them don’t want to be there. Many of them are dealing with a panicked public. Many of them are your friends and neighbors and are doing their best just like you—but we were curious what it’s been like for them.
The short answer? Not great. According to our anonymous source (who works for a national grocery chain but whom we won’t be identifying so as to protect their privacy and safety), the store they work for has committed to hazard pay and extra care should employees fall ill. That’s not us saying these people are definitely going to fall ill, but it’s important to take extra precautions when getting food right now. What follows are thoughts and tips from this employee. We urge you to think of them when you’re forced to go into public for food. Otherwise, stay home as long and as often as possible—unless, of course, you’re one of the people we’ve been talking about, in which case, let us just say this: Thank you!
“For starters, follow the rules of establishment. If there’s a line to get in, there’s a reason. If there’s a limit. it’s for a reason.”
It’s true. We’ve heard horror stories of people acting like the line didn’t apply to them, but it’s really there to keep you safe. Is it worth getting sick to elbow your way into the front of a queue full of people who now hate you?
“Don’t think of ways to cheat the system. If it’s numbered items per customer that doesn’t mean per transaction,” our source says. “Two gallons means two gallons—not two of one brand and two of the other, not two on one transaction and two on another.”
Food suppliers have definitely said we’re not in real danger of running out of food, but that the problem is people who are trying to buy way more than they need. Stores are trying to facilitate this, and it has nothing to do with the floor workers.
“Don’t ask if we have more in the back,” our source explains. “We don’t.”
Workers everywhere hate this even in the best of times. In times like this, when they’re working 12-hour shifts and stocking constantly? It’s out there if it’s available. Also, the floor workers don’t have control over this, either.
“If shelves are empty don’t make jokes about ‘Why are the shelves clear? You guys taking a break?’ or anything of that sort,” our source says. “Many of us are working overtime, sometimes coming in at 2 am, to make it easy for customers.”
See? We told you. If shelves are empty (which, in our experience has been very few and far between of late, but there’s no need to email us about some thing you saw, we know, we’re just saying it’s not the end of the world just yet), that’s just your bad luck at this point and hopefully they have that thing soon. It does not reflect on grocery store floor workers.
“Above all, don’t touch us,” says our source. “Or get close enough to breathe on us. Even if you’re an old lady that sees a nice hand on a shoulder as a kind gesture—don’t! We have to come to work for you. Respect that.”
Amen. In fact, it’s probably best to just not touch anyone out in the world at this point, but it goes double for people who have been mandated to interact with people at work right now. Hands to yourself. Probably forever, even (not solely because of the virus, but because we said so).
“And thank us for working,” they add. “It really means a lot.”
For sure. When we were finally forced to hit a store for some staples, a sincere and kind “How are you all doing right now?” asked to an employee seemed to go a long way. The person we said this to lit up, as if a kind word hadn’t come their way in ages. “We’re hanging in there,” they said. “Thank you for asking. Are you OK?” Touched that this person would even ask among a mountain of rudeness and constantly evolving scariness, your old pal The Fork almost wept. We did so when we got home, too.
So, this obviously just scratches the surface and we’d love to hear more from any grocery store workers or restaurant workers. We’re going to aim to get into restaurants for next week, so please hit us up with any thoughts you might have at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After we’d written the bulk of the newsletter, another grocery store clerk we know reached out to offer a thought or two. We’ll also not identify them, but it’s important:
“Any other time I would love to have a mini conversation with customers, but right now please buy your items and go home just like you’re supposed to,” they explain. “It makes things a lot more comfortable for us.”
And for the people behind you in line who just wanted to stay home but are trying to get by. Save the small talk for another time.
“Please realize we’re just as scared as you are,” they say.
This is maybe the most important part. We understand everyone is scared, but that includes that worker you just screamed at over toilet paper policies they had no hand in creating.
Source: Santa Fe Reporter