When front-line workers are brought up in conversation, grocery store employees usually aren’t top of mind. But hundreds of thousands of them continued to work during the pandemic.
They came to work each day, navigating an environment that became overcrowded and in some cases hostile.
“After that first month, you start to burn out,” said grocery store employee Tarik Zeid.
“It was like when is this going to stop? When are things going to be normal? You always think that normal is coming back, but it never did.”
Among the many dedicated grocery store clerks, cashiers and managers is Zeid. He runs the produce department at Food Fare in Winnipeg.
He described the first few months of the pandemic as “hectic and exhausting.”
“We’d see customers argue and people were definitely on edge,” he said.
“There was at least one or two situations a day where you’d walk by someone and they’d get upset, saying ‘oh you’re too close to me.’”
Zeid worked numerous shifts that topped 15 hours last spring.
He said delivery requests spiked tenfold in April and none of Food Fare’s employees would get to leave until all of the orders were complete.
“It slowly eased, as the restrictions got lifted in the summer and things started to open back up. It felt a little more like we’re getting back to normal, and we don’t have to work those 15-hour days.”
Deliveries into the fall rapidly started to slow down but spiked briefly before the holidays.
“There’s only 30 deliveries now instead of over 100, you get to go home at five,” Zeid smiled.
He recalled a period during last spring into the summer where he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
From the toilet paper craze to hand sanitizer, items were flying off shelves like never before.
“They were buying everything no matter what the price was, they were buying it.”
It got to the point where Zeid and his co-workers would sit down and forecast what they planned on selling during specific periods of time.
“Being able to provide that without running out and having them to go somewhere else, especially when they’re worried was a good feeling.”
Last year, he considered being able to clock out at 9 p.m. a “good day.” This year, that outlook has greatly improved.
“Now I’ll probably leave by 5 and I’m not too worried about it. I know exactly how the day is going to go,” he said.
And Zeid sure doesn’t miss grinding for up to 16 hours per day.
“It tested us at first, it was really, really tough. We consider everyone family around here so we got through it together.”
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