It’s nice to finally be recognized as “essential”


Photo courtesy of Jeremy Haynes.

It’s crazy to think that it took a whole pandemic for people to realize who “essential” employees are and their importance in society. Doctors and nurses have always been praised even before this pandemic, for saving lives. But, there’s always been an “underdog” in society– one who is now being recognized for their hard work and importance in our day to day lives. 


Meet the new kind of essential worker: the grocery store employee. 


As a retail/grocery employee, I know we have always been sort of looked down upon in  society, many reducing it to “not a real job.”


But working in a retail/grocery store through this pandemic has been an eye opener. While life has changed for everyone, it has significantly changed for the grocery store worker. 


Before the stay at home order was in place, people started to bulk buy, which is something I will  never forget. It was like a movie, all the shelves were empty. It got to the point where the store had to set a limit on a bunch of items, since people started taking advantage of the current situation. Grocery store workers became referees and fight breakers, trying to maintain the peace as people shopped in  panic mode. 


Usually around the month of March, sales and profits are lower coming off from the holidays. A silver lining for our retailer brought by the pandemic was the great demand and sales numbers echoing the holidays. I remember the beginning of the madness. You could hear the ring in our devices that goes off everytime we get a curbside pickup order. In one hour we had received over two hundred orders to complete. This was just the beginning, and  no one knew what would come next. 


Everyday something would change in how the store would operate, and we would all have to adapt to the new changes. But due to reports of a high number of grocery store workers being infected with COVID, the reality set it: I was at high risk of being infected, given my workplace. 


To meet the needs of our community, we couldn’t really lock up the way others  could during the lockdown. People still need food, and someone has to be there to stock to the shelves, and bag the groceries. 


Our store quickly took  some safety precautions in order to make the employees safe, and care for them. Glass barriers were placed in every register, social distance decals were placed on the floor to make sure that the employees and customers were practicing social distancing. 


The store stopped accepting returns for a bit, for the safety of both the customers and employees, assuming people would be understanding of the situation.


Then came the point where the store had also provided face masks and gloves to their employees. 


But, as the pandemic was reaching its peak, employees felt more scared to be exposed to so many people on the daily. This led to people taking a leave of absence, which meant that at one point there wouldn’t be as many employees working as we would typically have. So the people that have decided to stay while the peak of the pandemic was occurring would have to work twice as hard.


“Now I have to go to work more, since many people don’t want to work anymore,”Astrid Mora, one of the store’s employees shared with me one day. 


While the workload might be a little bit more stressful, the feeling that you are actually making an impact in society and helping the community feels rewarding. 


“I feel like a hero, because everybody else is scared to go out of their houses,” Mora explained.  “It feels good to be called in to stock their items, it feels nice to be recognized.” 


Before this pandemic, we would get recognized once in a while by customers. But during the pandemic we have  gotten so much recognition and gratitude by customers for working during this time since we are actually being exposed on every shift.  


Grocery store employees have always had to work hard, but it’s nice to finally be recognized as an “essential” part of life and survival.