Challenges of WRHS Grocery Store Workers

Emma Schroeder, Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed more strain on the US food industry and grocery stores now more than ever. For many non-essential workers, going to the grocery store has been one of the few outings people have been able to make over this past month and a half. Local grocery stores in Topeka rely heavily on high school students for employment. As a result, many WRHS students have been experiencing the full impact of this virus, from panicked overstocking customers to the stress of increased exposure. 

Junior Winter Doud has been working at Dillons during this time. One of her biggest challenges is being pushed into new departments without much warning and the higher risk of illness that accompanies these changes. 

“I was initially hired to work with floral and garden center before the Coronavirus was fully settled in the US. Because of this set of new circumstances, all of the hours in my initial department were cut, meaning I’ve been working in the front end, which puts me face to face with dozens of customers an hour. This constant exposure, especially with the new influx of what we call “panic shoppers” has put a lot of stress on the front end department in particular,” Doud said. 

The highest concentration of “panic shoppers” obviously hit a peak right before stay at home orders were issued. While many internet users found stories of people depleting toilet paper stocks asmusing, it was a time of high stress for people working at grocery stores. 

“Initially, the lines that formed before the state shut down wrapped around the store, and it was like the day before Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Black Friday times two most of the time. The pressure has definitely been decreasing over the past few weeks, but there certainly hasn’t been a time I recall having downtime. Click List, a service where customers can order online and have curbside pickup, on the other hand, is absolutely swamped. We have been cross training in every department and hiring a lot to try to handle the new demand, but the adjustment has been difficult to say the least,” Doud said. 

The increased demand on these workers was completely unexpected. Stores are constantly in a cycle of hiring and training new employees, but Doud said some people are not up to the challenge. 

“I actually started working during spring break, and while I initially only wanted around fifteen to twenty hours a week, I’ve been working forty now. We have been trying to hire as many people as we can, especially for Click List. Lately we’ve seen a lot of people walk out after their first day. It’s difficult,” Doud said. 

The food industry workers that remain know that their increased health risk is substantial, but they also know just how necessary their jobs are for a functioning community. 

“Most of us have come to terms with the fact that we are most likely going to face the illness head on at some point, the best we can do is try to self isolate after work, and log out temperatures. We know we need to do what we need to do to keep everyone fed. Some have quit, or taken emergency leave if they are immunocompromised,” Doud said 

Because of the risk of illness, the employees at Dillons are taking many precautions to maintain the highest level of health possible for both themselves and for the shoppers. 

“At this point, we are required to wear facemasks. We are also provided with hand sanitizer at registers, and we always have a courtesy clerk sanitizing carts as they come in. We have plastic shields up at customer service, and at every register. No self serve is open at this time either. We have also increased the number of times we are required to sanitize bathrooms, and we wash our hands hourly. We also use alternating lanes so that we can keep people as far apart as possible, and we sanitize belts every fifteen minutes or so. We aren’t allowed to use reusable bags either. Next week, all employees will be required to have their temperatures checked before and after every shift. I think we are doing the best we can, so I can’t really complain. Dillons is doing an excellent job at taking care of us, at least, the best they can,” Doud said. 

While these efforts are certainly helping, grocery store customers should also do their part to maintain health as well, whether it is keeping six feet apart or remembering to pick up after themselves. 

Please remember not to leave used wipes/gloves/masks in carts! We have to pick them up constantly, and it isn’t safe,” Doud said.