In February, I made an observation to my co-worker: “We see customers in all different kinds of states in their lives. Whether it is the best or worst week of their life, they still need to get their food.”
In March, most customers I saw were all in a new unique moment of their lives. It was a mood we all shared: an omnipresent dread and uncertainty of what was to come in the following months, as the country and the entire civilized world reacted to COVID-19.
As the term “quarantine” became more a part of our collective vocabulary, people scrambled to get the most of what they would need if they were going to be holed up in their house: food, and apparently toilet paper.
As a grocery store worker, I was on what came to be known as the “front lines” of the first days of COVID-19 being labeled an international pandemic.
As information about the necessary precautions of social distancing became known to us, I was checking out thousands of grocery items for hundreds of people every day.
Every check stand was open, and each line extended to the back of the store. I had no protective equipment, little space between myself and other people, and no time to wash my hands.
As the shelves of our grocery stores became bare, everybody quickly learned how unaccustomed to such a sight we are. Bare shelves quickly became a pervasive symbol to the American public, with many polarizing interpretations.
To some it showed the greed and selfishness of Americans, to some it symbolized the fear in the hearts of the public and their readiness to shelter in place to protect themselves and others, for some it symbolized that people suck because they can’t get the kind of yogurt they buy for themselves every week.
Whatever view you may hold, I sensed one common theme in the customers as they checked out their groceries; with any item of food acquired, they also gained some inkling of a sense of control.
An international pandemic is uncharted territory for virtually all people who are now alive. A virus doesn’t make a good enemy, and can surround you at all times and you have no idea. Small colds can suddenly bring fears of the loss of life for you and others around you.
The nature of the quarantine was not yet detailed, some were preparing as if society were to collapse, because there was no way to tell, and any security they can muster from a can of beans, they wanted.
Every day at work customers thank me for working, much like it is custom to thank an Army veteran for his service, and it makes me uncomfortable, but I thank them for their support.
The first days of the frontlines of the United States COVID-19 Pandemic was in our grocery stores, but now it moves to the rooms and corridors of our hospitals.
Doctors and Nurses are sacrificing their lives in New York at the moment, and similar bleak details are likely to emerge in hospitals around the country.
Please redirect your support for the grocery workers to your local healthcare workers, they need it more now than I ever did.