In March of 2020, we were no longer simply grocery store employees. Now we had a new name, “essential workers.”
Along with that new name came new responsibilities, ones that we had never done before. While we were hired to purchase and cook great food, to keep the store clean and the shelves stocked, and to deliver excellent customer service, we never envisioned all that would be required of us. It has been a very challenging time.
When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, information about new Health Department requirements, CDC guidelines and State mandates came at us at a furious pace. Sometimes changes would be announced while we were meeting to discuss implementation of the ones from earlier in the day. Added to that was the intense amount of shopping in the store, creating product shortages and uncertainty in ordering. Who knew that toilet paper would be the new gold standard?
Away went the salad bar, the hot bar, the bulk section. No more sampling, no more events or classes. Staff hours had to change even as responsibilities grew.
We had to package up more ready-to-eat food and find new uses for the hot bar and salad bar space. We stocked more product during less hours to allow customers to shop without exceeding our occupancy limit. The Co-op Community Room became the bulk repack section so customers could still get the products they typically would package themselves. Our meat department shifted into a new gear to keep our meat case full, finding new sources and cutting more product.
Plexiglass was added at the registers, along with social distancing floor graphics, and the responsibility to rigorously sanitize and enforce safety rules. Most shoppers were very grateful for these safety measures, some were not, and a very few were abusive. Some employees left rather than risk exposure to the virus.
Those that could, switched to working at home to give more space to those that couldn’t. We wore masks early on to protect each other, smiling with our eyes and doing our best to give great customer service from six feet away. We developed an online order and curbside pick-up option at our customers’ request – another thing we had never imagined we could do. But we did it, and are now able to serve those who prefer not to shop in person.
In gratitude for the services provided by essential workers in our community, the VFC Deli supplied breakfasts or lunches to essential frontline workers who kept our community afloat during tough times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Deliveries were made to the staff working at Vernon Memorial Healthcare, Vernon Manor, Viroqua United States Postal Service, Nelson Agri Center and Animal Tracks Veterinary Service.
Our community showered us with appreciation as we stayed open to serve them. We want to thank the businesses and members who brought us gifts. We enjoyed beautiful hand sewn masks, lovely individual soaps and lip balms, enough for all our employees. And to those wrote notes of thanks and sent encouraging Facebook messages, your kind words literally bolstered our courage to keep going. Thank you.
Things have settled down a bit for us, a “new normal” has set in. Parts of our bulk section are back, and we've pivoted to take-out and heat-n-serve prepared foods. But let’s face it, there is nothing “normal” about it.
We look forward to the day when we can see each other smile, have a staff party, and serve you, our owners and shoppers in a more personal and frankly, rewarding way.
Until then, we’ll do our very best to keep the store open and provide the good, local food that you count on us for. We are proud to be here, supporting your health and well-being during this extraordinary time. Thank you for continuing to shop at your community-owned food co-op, supporting our employees, our food producers and our community.