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  • Writer's pictureJena - The Grocery Gal

Circa May 2020: An Open Letter from Your Small Town Grocery Gal in The Midst of a Pandemic

As I was scrolling through “memories” on my personal Facebook page I had to stop at this picture... I mean, who doesn’t love a picture of gorgeous cinnamon rolls? I don’t see the cinnamon rolls for all of their gooey iced deliciousness though... what I see is an act of beautiful kindness. Last year at this time work at the grocery store was... well it was insane. I think we all remember when “panic shopping” started and how it seemed to never end. A wonderful, SWEET and thoughtful customer of ours brought these cinnamon rolls as a kind gesture to pick us up and to say thank you for the work we had been doing... (Meggs, you’ll never know just how much you pepped our steps) and today, it just got me thinking back.

Two days ago I was scrolling through Notes on my iPad and I found a small “would be” post from the beginning of last May and I don’t remember why I didn’t post it... I’m sure exhaustion and not knowing the if it was the best time to post during the climate of our world and social media although I did include a small part of this writing in a social media post, I’ve never shared its entirety... after the cinnamon rolls memory, I just think it’s time to share.

May 2020

An Open Letter from Your Small Town Grocery Gal in The Midst of a Pandemic.

I know what you’re thinking, ANOTHER post about the pandemic. It’s the last thing you want to hear, much less waste your time reading, but from my seat... I just can’t not write it. I’ve been dancing with and around this pandemic since March 13th. That’s the day I will never forget... I had a candid conversation with my mom where we joked around about upping our order of Charmin the next week. Little did I know what was coming and just how different the next week would be. It started that weekend, we reached the top of the roller coaster and tipped over the edge fast and furious. Our small towns started to feel the panic that was spreading from larger cities... our days went from normal business to what we call “holiday busy” overnight and quickly catapulted into something we have never experienced in our 22 years of business. I remember thinking that no way could this be real, there was no possible way this was happening here... HOW could what was happening in New York and the West Coast also be happening in two small towns in Southwest Oklahoma? There wasn’t any time to think about it. We dove in.. doing what we do best... stocking shelves, carrying out groceries and being there for our customers. Before we knew it, busy days weren’t the problem... getting a grocery order to our stores became the problem. All over the nation manufacturers and wholesalers were struggling to keep up with the widespread panic shopping. Our grocery warehouse doubled what the were shipping out almost overnight... truck drivers were a hot commodity, nobody was on schedule. Our shelves became bare, our customers became frustrated... so we did what we had to. We worked 16 hour days to accommodate the odd shipping hours, we scoured to find every possible wholesale food supply company where we could get the items you wanted.

We spent hours rifling through the pages of our order books to find products to fill our shelves, even if we didn’t normally carry them. We left our families at home just to be a little timid to come home to them every night after a shift. The virus wasn’t in our towns yet, but the thought of coming into contact with it at work was a little unnerving. So... we pushed those thoughts to the backs of our minds, we tried to ignore the new hottest accessory, masks our customers were wearing because acknowledging them made us remember that we could already have been exposed and fearing that we might have already spread it ourselves. Our hands cracked from our stores of hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap and from constant cleaning of shopping carts and every other surface we could find to clean. We ate more junk food than we care to admit because we couldn’t find the time to stop for a real meal. We answered phones that were ringing off the hooks. We comforted customers who were fearful of running out of it the inability to find food. We hid our fears of the exact same thing ourselves just as we comforted you that everything would be okay. We mourned with our community when they were laid off from their jobs, as tired as we were, we were thankful for our jobs and the ability to provide for our families. Days turned quickly into weeks... hours changed, towns closed... we kept essential worker paperwork in our cars just in case the state or our towns imposed a curfew or shelter in place mandates and we needed to get to work to feed you. Then... like magic we started to hit our stride.

We found our rhythm. We happily shopped for customer’s groceries who were home bound or too uneasy to come to the store. We got used to the extra foot traffic every day and started to get to know some “new” faces we hadn’t seen before. Some coming from nearby towns to shop to avoid larger crowds, others shopping different hours than they might’ve regularly... we joked and laughed with them. We talked with them about their fears and felt more confident in being able to assure them we had their back. We banded together as a team, worked extra hours without complaint and got the job done. Sure, we still worried about our safety and health but we were much more focused on doing a good job serving our communities that some of those fears we had melted away. Every day it seemed we faced a new challenge, but I can’t stress this enough, a good team behind you can make all of the difference. I know, I for one rediscovered how passionate I am about serving others. It was always there, but I found that I began to thrive in this role when not so long ago my passion was waning. So, I want to say thank you... thank you COVID-19 for reigniting my passion and fire for serving others. Thank you for filling my cup and showing me that I am EXACTLY where God meant for me to be. I for one know that our towns and our communities truly are filled with some of the most resilient hearts. Thank you to our community for also taking care of us, your kind words, gifts of food and snacks on long days as well as you patience and compassions got us through one of the craziest experiences we’ve ever lived through. THANK YOU!!! We couldn’t have done it without you. I also want to say thank you to the city governments in our town for doing your best to make sure our essential businesses could take care of our towns. Thank you for making the tough decisions and helping keep everyone safe. Now as our great state starts to reopen... to some extent... even if it’s not yet “back to normal” (if we’ll get back to some semblance of before) we find ourselves faced with new challenges as a community.

Now I want to phase into another chapter of our blossoming Covid-19 story....Yesterday, everything I’ve been feeling just poured out of me. A regular customer at one of our stores made the comment “My wife passed ten years ago and since then I have felt like I’ve been in prison... but these past months I have felt like I’m in solitary confinement”. It just made my heart so sad. I have found myself thinking about so many of our regular customers during this pandemic for so many reasons but, the customers who I know are alone, widowed, without children or family living nearby have been at the forefront of my mind. It has been so heart warming to finally see them walk through our doors after some time away, I find myself standing longer with them catching up... not only because I have missed them but because I know they’ve missed us and our daily interactions as well. When I interview people for a job opening I am always quick to remind people that we are in a customer service business! I require that they be friendly and helpful and I often remind them of those customers who come in and shop every single day... because sometimes they may need groceries but often times it’s because they enjoy the interaction and we may be some of the only people they talk to that day! Make those moments count!!!

Please don’t underestimate the value and impact I’m asking someone how they are doing today, I can promise you for many... those words and those conversations mean more than you know. I have always had a heart for service and I think God placed me in this position for a reason. I tell you this story for a number of reasons, I want you to be aware of how these interactions are much more important than you may believe but ALSO because I myself have seen these interactions less and less since the pandemic began as a shopper myself. Have you also noticed that you’re less likely to be talked to by fellow customers? People aren’t as quick to open a door or even make eye contact with each other as we were forced to navigate some stores by directional arrows taped on the floor? Do you feel disconnected by sneeze guards and masks? My call to you is be a light to those around you despite these challenges!!!! Talk to each other, ask each other how we are doing, laugh with one another. Even if you disagree with wearing masks or if you promote at each other, make that eye contact! Don’t be afraid to reach out to your fellow neighbor in that way!!! A customer yesterday told me “you can’t tell because I’m wearing this mask.. but I’m smiling” and I was quick to reply...”oh yes I can! Your eyes give it away!!!”

She hadn’t been in a store grocery shopping since March and you could just tell she was so enjoying being out and about and she made my entire day. Make every moment count! I know I am and at our stores... we are open and we are so happy to see you!!! I can proudly say, we are weathering the storm that has been COVID-19... maybe not always with the greatest of ease but we made it over some hurdles. Here is one thing that I know, as an Oklahoman, a Grocery Gal, a Mother, a Neighbor, a Friend....If we ever meet something like this again, we’ll be even better. In the meantime wash your hands, say your prayers and love your neighbors.

-The Grocery Gal (May 2020)

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