In a matter of mere weeks, everything changed for the people who work in Langley grocery stores.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, shelves still have to be stocked, pallets have to be unloaded, and payments processed at checkout tills.
But now, surfaces need disinfecting, transactions take place behind plastic shields, customers are told to stay least six feet apart, and limits have had to be imposed on purchases of everything from toilet paper to eggs and yeast.
Those are just some of the changes faced by staff in Langley stores as they find themselves on the front line of the campaign to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
At Ralph’s Farm Market on 22728 Fraser Highway, measures to maintain safety include requesting only one person per household to shop inside the market and to limit handling.
“When choosing items to fill your cart or buggy, please only touch the items you are taking,” an online message to Ralph’s customers requests.
“We know it is second nature to usually touch and feel produce before getting “the perfect one” but at this time, we are temporarily asking you to be mindful of this.”
Save-On-Foods pharmacy manager Aleena Hildebrand sums it up the situation this way: “obviously, it’s not business as usual.”
Her pharmacy at 20255 64th Avenue is busier, in large part because people have more questions “and they’re looking to us, as medical professionals, for answers” and staff are regularly sanitizing and disinfecting the pharmacy.
Team members are wearing personal protective equipment and a Plexiglas window has been installed at the pharmacy counter, which provides another protective barrier.
“We’re adhering to physical distancing measures even in a small department like our pharmacy, and we’re all working together to get through this.”
“Our team is answering a high volume of calls and patient questions, and we are trying to educate our patients as best we can to help them through this pandemic,” Hildebrand told the Langley Advance Times.
There has been an increase increase in phone and drive-through refills, which “are great options for people who are trying to reduce physical contact in public places” Hildebrand commented.
COVID-1 has introduced a new level of stress, and staff are “grateful for the kindness and understanding our patients have shown, and it really helps life our team’s spirits” Hildebrand said.
“It’s a very uncertain time for everyone, including our team.”
“Emotions are high, and we need the support of our communities, families, friends, colleagues and our employer to help us through this crisis. We need to maintain a work-life balance as much as possible, even when it seems like all we talk about is COVID-19.”
She would like customers to “please treat our team members, front-line workers, and everyone with respect and kindness. This is a global pandemic that requires a global solution, and we are all on the same team.”
Moreno’s Market and Deli owner Jill Moreno has had to scramble to find staff.
Moreno said family members helped to keep her Langley store in business after several workers had to quit for various COVID-19 related reasons, such as having pre-existing medical conditions and compromised immune systems that would make them more vulnerable.
Daughters Maya and Emma, and Jill’s mother, Chrissie Clancy, stepped up to fill the gap at the store, which is located at the corner of 72nd Avenue and 200th Street.
While Chrissie works in the bakery, Emma — a university student whose classes were cancelled — and Maya — whose Langley public school classes were cancelled — have been putting in five-day weeks.
“They’re both working full-time and going to school online as well,” a proud Jill said.
“I’m very lucky. The girls have been my saviours.”
Moreno was one of the very first grocers in Langley to introduce early openings for seniors, which is now a widespread practice.
Jill said after the initial period of adjustment to the new reality of social distancing and regular disinfecting, “things have levelled out.”
No one has come down with the virus, so far, she added.
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Started a few hours late but got things done…huge thank you to all the staff that waited by phones to be called in…we had no real idea of time…emptied about 50 bags of ice that we filled and iced cases with…#goodpeoplegoodwork #nopower …didn’t much like the 11 hour day on my Friday 😩
At the Otter Co-op Retail Centre at 3650 248th St., “every aspect of the job has changed” in the hardware department, manager Brandon Kosciuk observed.
Otter has implemented one-way aisles and limits the number shoppers to two per aisle, and no more than 125 customers in total are allowed in the store at a time. Staff are constantly disinfecting buggies and other surfaces.
Sales have doubled, which has made ordering and restocking a challenge.
“With a large majority of the population either working from home or at home, it’s really benefited the department in terms of people catching up on repairs around the house, landscaping, and of course gardening,” Kosciuk said.
“We have seen many new faces in our store, which we anticipate to see again and more frequently after the pandemic clears.”
Over at the Co-op cafe, only takeout orders are being accepted, team member Jeremy McLeod explained.
”Shoppers should know that we are taking every step to ensure our team and guests’ safety, with regular cleaning and social distancing,” McLeod said.
Guest service supervisor Dana Munro asked Otter customers to be patient and respectful at the tills, “as we are trying our best to continue to provide efficient and quality service to all our guests.”
Murrayville IGA cashier Shaylin Thulin described for the Langley Advance Times how the very first thing she does when she comes home from a shift at the store is to drop her bag of work clothes by the door and take a shower.
And right after that, she takes her work clothes and runs them through the washing machine in the Aldergrove house she shares with her parents.
“Everything goes straight into the washer,” Thulin said.
Like most stores, the IGA has given workers a temporary two-dollar-an-hour pay boost during the coronavirus outbreak.
Her advice to customers is “leave space,” by respecting social distancing with each other and her fellow workers.
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WHAT IS IT LIKE TO WORK DURING #COVID19? Raven, a grocery store worker, shop steward & delegate at the Yukon Federation of Labour is grateful for those customers who make her feel appreciated. When you're buying groceries these days, don't forget to thank the workers! 💙 ⠀ ⠀ #bclab #canlab #workers #ufcw #union
Many grocery store workers are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union with locals representing workers at Loblaws, Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills, Fortinos, Sobeys, IGA, Safeway, Metro, Food Basics, Super C, Save-On-Foods, Federated Co-operatives Limited, and Fresh St. Markets, among others.
Kim Novak, president of UFCW local 1518 said the job hasn’t changed, but the conditions have, and along with that, so have public attitudes towards store workers.
“I think the public values them in a different way because of the essential and critical services that they provide,” Novak told Black Press media.
Members have told Novak that when they get a “thank you” or are told how much they’re appreciated, “that really does go a long way.”