Grocery workers feel the stress of the pandemic

We are all grateful to those who continue to work on the front lines during this world-wide health crisis. In the next few weeks, the Townsman/Bulletin will introduce you to some of our local heroes, workings in hospitals, grocery stores, fire departments and more.

READ: Meet out local heroes

This week we talked to Stephanie Ames, Manager of Kimberley Save On Foods.

Kimberley Save On was already in the middle of construction of a new store when the pandemic hit, and Ames says that everything changed.

“When a pandemic like this happens, it happens quickly and gives little time to react,” she said. “In my industry, the entire community relies on us to keep up with the speed of change and panic. From a supply chain point of view, we need to make sure we are agile and reacting our orders immediately and try and find some type of trends to stay on top of this.

“From a health and safety point of view, we have to be the leaders in this and make sure our store is the cleanest it has ever been and to keep it that way for our own safety and the safety of our community. The first few weeks went by in an instant. Twice a day we were having store huddles to stay on top of this, we were having strategic huddles daily to try and regain any control and sanity. Not to mention the volume of calls we received daily, anything from when’s your next meat truck? When do you have toilet paper? When do you have sanitizer? Wipes? Can you save me some?”

Some callers were not as nice as they could be, and it’s up to Ames to keep team morale up.

“Being a Store Leader, I needed to stay calm, under control, poised and upbeat for my team, for the ones that look up to me for guidance. I need to be their calm and comfort in this crazy unknown storm.”

Ames says that in normal times, she enjoys the grocery industry, trying to figure out what consumers will enjoy, as well as providing what they need.

“But now, that’s not the focus, that’s not the priority,” she said. “Now I am just their leader, not to sell groceries, not to build displays, not to “go the extra mile”. My job is chaos control. Working in the public has so many variables and now we need to focus on how to keep our customers calm, how to not let their shopping habits or comments get to us, we need to stay calm and not get worked up.”

She says her mantra is focus on what you can control, which helps minimize chaos and panic.

And she cannot say enough about her staff in Kimberley.

“My team here is incredible, their care and commitment to each other and to our customers, everyone reading this, they’ve done this for all of you. Because they too, are grocers. I have never been so proud to be a part of this store and this community as I am today. They all rallied behind one another and kept their chins up and worked the hardest they ever had. The demand on them to be more productive, to work more hours, to stay happy and do it while practicing higher hygiene practices while respecting yours, is something to respect.”

“People forget we have very young adults working here. That young man you complained about that doesn’t have the best customer service at the till? He’s now cleaning all of your buggies, handles all of the contact points. He’s now filling all the toilet paper you desperately need, he’s filling the sanitizer, the wipes, he’s filling the meat case, and he’s doing all of that in a single eight hour shift. And then tomorrow? He’s doing it all over again.”

And it’s also senior team members stepping up.

“We have some exceptional senior team members here, the ones I rely on, the ones that keep me sane and help manage my workload. They’ve stepped up also, they’ve increased their daily workloads, they’ve also never been through a pandemic like this. “Without them, I would be lost and I would fail.”

In terms of getting the team through the stress, Ames says communication and appreciation are key. She cares about every individual, and tries to support them, giving them extra breaks when they need it.

“Personal recognition and appreciation is key to keep spirits up,”Ames said. ”Now that things are back in a manageable load, we are recreating excitement in our building, we are selling groceries again, we have kind words and thank yous when you walk into our store. We are focusing on bringing positive vibes back into our store and control what we can.”

All of the extra hours and worry have affected life at home.

the amount of stress she is bringing home is almost unbearable, Ames says, and her wife and children have been so supportive.

“I have been disconnected, detached and not a partner. My work follows me home, my cell phone never stops ringing and conference calls are endless. I go to bed early, I can’t make it past 8 p.m. anymore and some nights it’s much earlier than that.

“Home routines are different, I have to make sure I am going straight to the shower, clean clothes, not to touch anything without cleaning it afterwards to prevent any risk towards them. My energy is gone and my family are the ones now leading me, my family has lost a big piece of them right now. I am not the one they look up to anymore, they are the ones to help me, to remind me I am a human and I can’t take everything on.

“My family misses me, misses having me around, misses me laughing with them, misses me playing games with them, miss our fun drives, miss my lame jokes and I know they sure miss my cooking.”

Ames asks for patience from customers as the pandemic continues.

“Trust us, give us the patience we need, be kind to one another. We will always find a way to sell groceries and the safest way possible. The one fact here, grocers aren’t going anywhere. They are here for you. Next time you come visit us, please thank the students, the young individuals in my building. They have the world on their shoulders and don’t have the same stress management skills grown adults do, remember, they are still just kids.

“My last thank you is to my wife and to my own kids, thank you for loving me, thank you for supporting me, thank you for your patience. This will all be over one day and we are all going to be bigger, badder and stronger!”

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