O.C. Grocery Clerks Share Their Experience During COVID-19

Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Orange Coast shares stories of how people in our county connected and coped in the early days of COVID-19: tales from the helpers and heroes, tips for surviving stay-at-home orders, shifts local businesses made to adapt, advice going forward, and a community displaying hope and resolve. You’ll find plenty of reasons to be proud of where we live and how we’re rising together.

Ryan F. and James F., employees at Trader Joe’s

When did it get really busy?

Ryan: Probably by March 10, everything on the shelves was gone. All the pasta, stuff like that; everything got wiped out.

James: (We were sold out) probably by like 4 or 5 p.m., each day for almost a week.

What was that like?

J: At the time, it was a little stressful and kind of silly to see everyone buying so much. Everyone was kind of panicking at that moment. The store would be crammed full of people with almost no room to move.

R: It seemed kind of ridiculous they were so worried about (the virus), but they’d bring their whole entire family.

J: Our store was definitely a lot more civil than what you would see in videos (elsewhere). People weren’t fighting or ripping things out of each other’s hands.

How did your store keep up?

R: The sales numbers were insane—broke every company record. At Trader Joe’s, we write our orders in every day, and we get our shipment in every morning. But it was so crazy that the company took over the ordering and would just send us what they could.

What is your store doing now?

R: We ask people to just be considerate of their neighbors, and don’t take more than what you need. That has really created a sense of calm in the store.

Are you still seeing hoarding?

R: You can definitely see a lot of people acting selfish still. This guy had a stack of four dozen eggs in his cart. I went up to him and said, “Hey, man, I just want to let you know we’re only allowing people to take two dozen eggs right now so there’s enough for everyone.” He said: “Well, my girlfriend is in the store, so I’m going to give her two then!” They were shopping together so they could get twice as much.

Are you scared of getting sick?

J: I’m not scared, just accepting of the reality that I will probably get it working at a grocery store. I’m more exposed than most people at this point.

R: I’m very scared. Everyone at the store knows that it’s like a ticking time bomb.

How do you see your job?

R: You always feel kind of proud to say you work at Trader Joe’s. But (now) if it weren’t for the grocery employees, this whole entire country would be in a way gnarlier situation. I feel like our job feels a lot more important than it did prior to this.

Read more from this issue at orangecoast.com/together.

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