Q&A: The Underrated Essential Workers

by Daniel Pugeda

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many doctors, nurses, first-responders, and other essential workers to whom we owe our thanks. However, one group many have overlooked is grocery store employees. Many businesses and restaurants have closed while grocery stores remain open, allowing people to shop for food and other necessities. Although their jobs are not as glamorous as others, they have been consistently providing service and offering a sense of normalcy in otherwise uncertain times.

Daniel Pugeda talked with Marelle Brown, a high school student and part-timer at Trader Joes, to ask about  her experience working through a global pandemic.

Daniel Pugeda: Can you introduce yourself? 

Marelle Brown: My name is Marelle Brown and I’m 16 years old. 

DP: Why did you apply to Trader Joe’s, and how long have you been working there? 

MB: Well my brother works at another location, so he always tells me how nice it is to work there, and it was just I was just turning 16 around the time I applied since I knew I was eligible to be working. So it sounded like a good job and I felt like I had an advantage to be hired there because my brother worked at another location. I started working at Trader Joes in November, so it’s been about seven months now.

DP: Before the coronavirus pandemic began, how did you feel about your job?

MB: The work was a little tiring when I was first hired, but after a while, I got used to it. There were always lots of options for what I could do like bagging, demo, stocking, inventory, and etcetera. I would walk around the store a lot and always interact with customers. It was a pretty easy and fun way to make money, and I enjoyed doing it. 

DP: Do you view yourself differently now that you’re considered an essential worker, and if so how?

MB: Sometimes it just hits me that if I wasn’t here––it’s a grocery store, it’s very essential––it would be really hard for people to get through their daily lives without food, but I don’t know. I don’t really think that highly myself. It’s just sometimes I’m like, ‘yeah, that’s nice that I’m out here working and providing for people.’ 

DP: Can you describe your daily routine working during quarantine?

MB: So I get ready for work and I have to put my mask on before I can enter the store. When I enter the store I have to answer a series of questions asking if I have symptoms, if anybody around me has symptoms, or if I’ve been tested, before I can even get to work. The whole time I’m working I have to wear gloves and a mask and we have glass screens protecting us at all times at the registers. In my opinion, it’s about the same but I always have to remember to keep my distance from customers.

DP: Are you or your family ever concerned that you’re working in a place where it’s possible to be exposed to the virus?

MB: Yes, sometimes my parents get a little concerned because I do see a lot of people on any given day I’m working. Although, they’ve been pretty supportive and as long as they see that I’m washing my hands or wearing my mask and gloves, they don’t really freak out about it. 

DP: So what would you say is the most challenging part of working during the pandemic? 

MB: Definitely people’s attitudes because even though we’re going through something, some people just freak out and act hostile towards others. I think they’re not used to the way things are and they blame it on us, but everyone is going through the pandemic. We can’t do anything about it. 

DP: How does it feel for you to go into work, especially having to deal with people’s attitudes? 

MB: I actually really like going into work. I have really nice co-workers that are very supportive, so even if people are being rude, I know I have a backup system that I can rely on. It doesn’t really get to me, but I enjoy going into work.   

DP: What are some safety tips you have for people to make sure they’re not exposing themselves or others to the virus while grocery shopping? 

MB: I would suggest stocking up on food when you make trips so you don’t have to go to the grocery store as much. I would recommend, when you go, to make sure you get at least two weeks’ worth of food. Always wear your masks and gloves and wash your hands for 20 seconds when you get home. I also can’t stress enough how important it is to practice social distancing!