Skip to content

Grocery store employees face COVID-19 risk to serve their communities

Community shows gratitude with cards and daily compliments
Shannon Gagnon, store manager of the Thrifty’s Maple Ridge location. (THE NEWS-files)

It’s all about handwashing.

From the moment Bryn Peck enters her place of work in the morning to the moment she goes home, the Meridian Meats store manager is washing her hands.

“For me, honestly, you are just very aware about gloves and handwashing,” said the Maple Ridge manager.

When she leaves work for the day, she grabs all her belongings and washes her hands. When she gets into her car she sanitizes her hands. At home her uniform goes right into the laundry and her into the shower.

It is a stressful time for essential service workers who work in grocery stores across Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, despite all the changes that have been implemented to keep them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the first two weeks of the crisis, owner Josh Penner was in almost daily contact with an environmental health officer or public health nurse because, he said, they had so many questions.

“We wanted to make sure that we weren’t relying on what we think is the right thing to do. We wanted to go on what health authorities were saying was the right thing to do,” he explained.

RELATED: Normally taken for granted, B.C. truckers now in the spotlight

One of the best decisions he said he made was paying employees for up to two weeks if they couldn’t work because they were feeling sick, COVID-19 or not. That eliminated employees making the tough decision of either taking care of their health or having to work because they need the money.

When they start their shifts, all of his employees are asked a series of questions about how they are feeling, along with those in their households.

Any indication of sickness and they are sent home.

They were also given a $2 an hour wage increase.

Stores across both communities now have Plexiglas at every checkout to separate customers from employees and they also limit the amount of customers.

At Meridian Meats they have someone stationed at the front door managing the flow of people, explaining the new measures to customers, and also offering them gloves and hand sanitizer.

RELATED: Maple Ridge & Pitt Meadows firefighters: ‘We’re here to help’

They also have someone whose job it is to disinfect the store. From open to close that person does a 30-minute loop disinfecting hightouch areas around the store. And they have decals on the floor reminding people to physically distance themselves.

In addition to floor decals, the Save-On-Foods in Pitt Meadows has additional signage and announcements running every 30 minutes reminding customers of the importance of social distancing, explained store manager Chris Koop.

And they are installing arrows on the floor to help guide customers through the store.

His pharmacy has also been busy, although, during the last couple of weeks, the demand has “levelled out,” said Koop.

“Some of our customers haven’t been able to see their family doctor, so our pharmacy has seen an increase in doctor’s offices phoning and/or faxing over prescriptions to be filled for the customer to pick up,” he explained.

At Thrifty’s in Haney Place Mall, only 25 customers are allowed at one time in the store, to maintain social distancing.

In addition to Plexiglas at cash register, cashiers also sanitize in between customers and they have a system in place where every 15 minutes each cashier must wash their hands. Self-service areas have been closed off and aisles are now oneway only.

“Our mantra is ‘family nurturing families’ and that’s never been more true than now,” said the store’s manager, Shannon Gagnon.

Employees are feeling a sense of pride being able to continue to feed families and making sure the community has access to the food and groceries that they need, she said. Gagnon feels that her team is able to stay strong in the face of COVID-19 with the routines that they have for safety.

“The uncertainty isn’t there when we feel confident in the procedures we have put place,” said Gagnon.

In the meat and seafood service cases, staff have decorated with balloons, messages of hope from their team to other workers, and hearts. In the bakery there are also rainbows.

“I know that that little project was super cool and provided just something fun in the midst of some crazy times,” added Gagnon.

Working in this atmosphere amid the COVID-19 pandemic is stressful for the staff at the Langley Farm Market in Pitt Meadows, said store manager Chris Mok.

Despite all inconveniences, he said “customers are very helpful and very understanding.”

The outpouring of support for local grocers across the board has been immense.

“Even in the worst situations, everybody is just super thankful to be able to come in and shop,” Peck concluded.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

An employee at Thrifty’s socks vegetables at the Maple Ridge location. (THE NEWS-files)
Cashier Jeanne Hornall at the Pitt Meadows Save On Foods. (Contributed)
Save On Foods store manager of the Pitt Meadows location, Chris Koop, with his pharmacy manager Maricor Pascua-Dela Cruz. (Contributed)
Produce clerk Kyle Derochie stocks fruits at the Save On Foods Pitt Meadows location. (Contributed)

Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

I got my start with Black Press Media in 2003 as a photojournalist.
Read more