It's no surprise that everyone is stressed out right now and has been for the past 9 months. I had no idea how much stress I would be under when I started working at a grocery store in February of 2020. I thought I had the most stress-free job in the world! I had just left a job that put so much stress and responsibility on me that I was grateful to be working somewhere where I didn't have to worry about receiving phone calls or texts on my days off or worry about a client call that was scheduled. I had just gotten the hang of things .. and then suddenly the world began to shut down.
I remember the first people who started to stock up for the coronavirus. I remember thinking they were insane and calling them "panic buyers." I assumed that the panic would soon end and that they were going to feel so silly. I remember the first few customers who weren't giving into the hype but simply had to buy groceries because their offices were going to be shut down for 2 weeks. Slowly but surely, everyone was receiving calls that they would have to stay home for a few weeks. Suddenly, one day, on a quick run to Target, I thought, "Do we need to buy toilet paper, too?" Not even 2 days later... there was nowhere to buy toilet paper, hand sanitizer, tissues, meat and so many of the other necessities we need daily. I was grateful that I decided to buy into the hype for just that moment. That was the first moment that it felt real.
For weeks, it felt like chaos. The second week of March, we had nothing on our shelves, and the line wrapped around the entire store. Panicked customers just looking to grab any frozen meals in case the city shuts down. Constant customers with over $200 carts, filled with doubles and triples of everything they were buying, constant lines in and outside of the store, constant anger from everyone involved. The customers inside were angry that we didn't have what they needed and the customers outside were angry that the line wasn't moving. I felt like I was coming home with a new story every single day of a customer screaming at me or one of my coworkers or managers. Throughout the months of March through June, I had seen things I never thought I would see while working in a grocery store. People screaming, fights breaking out over the last bag of broccoli, even a man pulling his pants down in the middle of our store. I thought that was the hard part. I really did. I thought constantly reminding everyone to wear a mask and stay 6 feet apart was the hardest it would be. I thought the constant anxiety of keeping customers at a distance, while also bagging their groceries and treating them with respect would be the hardest part.
I just didn't realize it would last this long. Here we are now, 9 months into a pandemic and the chaos has subsided for the most part, but now is when I'm starting to feel it most. I thought I would feel it when people started to loosen up on the rules, I thought I would feel it when New York felt like it was returning to normal. I had no idea it would be nearly Christmas and I would still be feeling this way, and probably even worse than before. There are days I feel each and every one of my coworkers' exhaustion. There are days where all of us are just trying our best and for some customers, that isn't enough. I often find myself frustrated with the lack of respect from others and the lack of kindness I see each and every day.
Every day is getting harder. Every day is more and more exhausting the longer this goes on. On one of the toughest days of the pandemic, when it felt like everyone was against us, one of my managers exclaimed "I never signed up to be on the front lines. I signed up to put tomatoes on shelves." That really stuck with me. I never signed up to put my life in danger every single day. I never signed up to be rewarded or clapped for helping others. I just needed money, as do so many of your local grocery store employees, managers, and owners. I still do.
So please, next time you go grocery shopping and they don't have the things you came in for or the line is long, remember these few things:
- Your cashier does not know why there haven't been any of your favorite crackers in a while.
- Your cashier did not cause the warehouse to stop producing your favorite product.
- Your cashier did not buy all of the milk, eggs and meat in the store and I can promise you it is not hidden in the back.
- Your cashier barely makes a living wage to be there.
- The managers wish you did not have to wait in line, but 8 people called out this morning and this is the best they can do.
- Your cashier is worried about the last time you washed your bag and what you could be exposing them to.
Most importantly, please remember that we are exhausted, we are people who are just as afraid to catch this virus as you are but we continue to show up every day for you, for us, for our family. We continue to be there so you can have your groceries, no matter how exhausted we may be. No matter how many hours extra we worked the day before. We're not asking for praise or a reward. We just want you to know that we are people too and we deserve the same respect you give others. We are trying our best.
9 months later and it hasn't been any easier...I'm hoping that 9 months from now will look completely different than it does today.