During the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of essential workers in our supply chains has been highlighted like never before, especially the efforts of our local grocery store workers.
While panic buying and hoarding impulses have largely run their course, customers still rely on grocery stores for food, drink and other basic necessities on a weekly basis. This means that employees of grocery stores need to keep coming to work during the age of social distancing, potentially putting themselves at risk of infection every shift.
One of these workers still coming in five days a week is grocery clerk Melenie Gillis who has been working at the 100 Mile House FreshCo, formally Safeway, for the last year. Gillis has lived in 100 Mile for about the last five years ever since she felt a desire to “get out of the coast” and moved here from Abbotsford.
As a grocery clerk, Gillis typically spends her days cleaning, stocking shelves, doing inventory counts, helping to unload trucks and a range of other duties. She’s had a few years of experience working at other grocery stores, such as Walmart, and said that the store in 100 Mile House has proven to be a good fit so far. She works alongside 88 other employees at FreshCo which is a lot of fun for her.
“It’s a fast pace, I like the customers, I really love my coworkers, it’s enjoyable,” Gillis said. “I think with this store here, particularly, it’s a great group of people. We’re like a family here, a lot of us are still here from Safeway and we’re like one big happy family, we get along and care for each other as such.”
One thing she said customers probably don’t realize about working at a grocery store is the fact that trucks come in almost every day and the staff in the back are kept busy unloading and moving items around while trying to help customers as much as possible.
At FreshCo in 100 Mile at least, she said that they’re starting to even out after the panic buying and hoarding of late March and early April. Their stocks of sugar and flour are refilled and there is ample food coming in every day. Hand sanitizer is still hard to come by, however, and disinfecting wipes still tend to sell out within a day of arriving on the shelves.
When asked what type of new systems FreshCo has put in place to protect her and her fellow workers Gillis simply replied “lots.” Cleaning of all kinds has been ramped up in the store from washing surfaces to washing hands, Gillis joking she thinks her hands have had more alcohol than her body has lately. Social distancing is also maintained to the best of their ability in between workers and customers, with Gillis saying they do their best to give customers the right of way in crowded aisles.
In addition to washing and hand sanitizing their hands, Gillis said staff are mostly wearing gloves and that some are wearing masks, though that has not yet been made mandatory by management. They’ve also made certain aisles into one-way lanes with arrows on the ground to control traffic and have given people designated places to stand while going through the tills, to maintain that six feet of distance.
They also now have set up plastic shield guards for cashiers at their tills at their front and back while to protect their customers the buggies and shopping carts are frequently cleaned and disinfected. So far she said these efforts have been met with positivity for the most part from the general public, though there have been a few sourpusses here and there who think the precautions are stupid.
“I’d say 95 per cent, or higher, are very thankful that we’re here and that we’re doing the precautions that we are to keep everybody safe,” Gillis said.
They also do online shopping now for some residents, the food is then being delivered to their homes by the Hillside Community Church, and have a special shopping hour for seniors from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., Gillis said.
At the beginning of all this, Gillis said it was a little nerve-wracking to go into work and said there was a lot of fear. Now that their precautions have been implemented and time has passed she’s not as concerned about it as she was, as they’ve made coming to work less scary.
As to what the public can do to make her and her fellow workers safer, a big thing would be refraining from bringing the whole family to the store when you go shopping now. If you’re a single parent, Gillis said you have to bring your children but if you’re a couple coming into the store with five kids, it’s probably not a good idea. A sense of patience will also be key, she said, as it may take a little longer to get around the store now or get through the till.
“Everything we do is for the safety of our customers and to keep everyone safe, it’s not because we’re trying to be a pain in the butt,” Gillis said. “Don’t be afraid to come out, just come out when you need to not because you feel like it. Hopefully, everyone stays safe and enjoys their quarantine at home but hopefully, we’ll be through this very soon and life can get back to normal.”