Art by Madeline Duvall
International praise for nurses, doctors, first responders, truck drivers and grocery store workers continue as the coronavirus pandemic roars on.
For many, this is the first time their work is acknowledged as essential for others, a stark reminder that their job is to risk their own life to try to save a stranger’s.
But as this recognition gains momentum, confusion builds.
Why does it take a pandemic to appreciate the people who keep us healthy and ensure there are shelves stocked with food?
The only answer I can come up with is that it is because our work is taken for granted. It is not until our work is deemed to have failed the public that society realizes how essential we are.
I say “our” because I am one of these newly deemed essential workers.
I started work at a local Malibu grocery store two weeks ago, the first day of Pepperdine’s online courses and the day before California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay at home order.
I emphasize this specific day because within the last 14, I worked 49 hours. (That is a lot, OK!)
Let me preface this by saying that 14 days ago, I had a completely different understanding of grocery store workers. Since my hiring, however, I sold individual customers thousands of dollars in groceries, watched as customers cried to me at the sight of empty shelves and endured when they yelled at me for the store not having any hand sanitizer.
Customers have also thanked me for my service and for being on the front lines of a virus at such a dangerous time, and customers have prayed for me.
Deep down, I know this gratitude and frustration comes from a place of immediate need, and while the thanks is intentional, I know it will only last so long as the eggs are in stock.
That is a problem.
Grocery store employees are “keeping this nation from going into civil unrest,” as stated by John T. Niccollai, president of the New Jersey Food & Commercial Workers Union, in an interview with The New York Times. While this is true, grocery store employees continue to risk their health to ensure that families have food to eat during the chaos of COVID-19. They are tired and “fearful of getting sick themselves,” Niccollai added.
We often joke at my store about contracting coronavirus or already having it due to the increase in shoppers. But it is not something to make light of because the threat is exponentially higher being that we, grocery store employees, do not have the luxury of staying at home to quarantine for more than 10 hours a night.
It is infuriating as much as it is heartwarming to see the world celebrate the work of these people who struggle every single day to ensure communities are safe, fed and healthy.
COVID-19 brings new light to the work of millions of employees who are underpaid and unappreciated every day, and for that, I am glad. But it should not take a pandemic. It is not new for the labor of employees to be recognized and revered.
A pandemic reveals the true heroes of society, the ones who have been there all along but rarely get credit. Grocery store employees are just a few of those heroes.
Every day, we work hard, and every day, we deserve to be thanked for our service. Pandemic or not.
Email Camryn Gordon: firstname.lastname@example.org