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The Tale of a Trader Joe’s Essential Worker

For the past eight months, I’ve spent around thirty hours a week inside a Trader Joe’s. I’ve worked over nine-hundred hours at a grocery store during the COVID-19 pandemic, witnessing everything from anti-maskers to intense panic buying to moments of goodness in this hectic and uncertainty filled time of our lives. 

You would think that by now, over a year into this pandemic, temper tantrums over having to wear a small piece of cloth over your mouth and nose for the twenty to thirty minutes you are inside a store would no longer occur. They still occur. Just last week, my manager had to continuously ask a customer if they would wear their mask over their mouth and nose (they were wearing it under their chin). They would put it on correctly, but the second my manager walked away would pull it down to its original, useless, position. We had had enough, and my manager asked the customer to leave, for they were not following our store policy. The customer proceeded to scream profanities at him and flip their shopping cart over, breaking many glass items inside and ruining around $100 worth of groceries. And that was just a Tuesday. Another example that happened at the Santa Cruz Trader Joe’s was a group of anti-maskers that raided the store in February, harassing the employees and customers inside. People’s inconsideration baffles me. Please be compassionate and wear your mask, the pandemic is not over. 

Though I wasn’t working at TJ’s last March when stores were selling out of anything and everything, I have experienced quite a bit of panic buyers. Most notably after the second strict lockdown was announced, a surge of panic buying began again, wiping the store of items such as canned beans, pastas/sauces, and obviously—toilet paper: we had to limit customers to one shopping cart, and one toilet paper package per purchase to try to save products for more people. Don’t get me wrong, I get wanting to be prepared, but trying (key word trying) to purchase all the black beans we had stocked is a bit too far (true story, someone tried to buy over thirty cans of black beans). Let’s take a step back and remember there are many mouths to feed and that grocery stores are not going anywhere. Not going to lie, walking down an ill-stocked aisle, flooded with people, with my box cutter in my pocket made me feel like I was the star of the next zombie apocalypse TV show (dare I say the stocking dead?). 

I realize that I have focused a bit too much on the negative, so I’m going to point out a few of the many reasons why I’ve adored working at Trader Joe’s so far. First, it has let me witness how people have come together during this pandemic. Many customers have shown their kindness and care for their community by buying groceries for their elderly neighbors, allowing the more susceptible to stay out of a populated area. Alongside this, our store posted some notes sent from various elementary school students thanking essential workers in our break room. Working has also created a lot of comradery, with most of the employees almost exclusively seeing only family and each other throughout this past year.  Clearly sociability during a pandemic is very low, causing a lot of isolation. Going to work allowed me to have that human interaction between coworkers and customers, making this year not as lonely.  Obviously this came at a price, making me more prone to getting this virus, my family even made bets on how long I would last being COVID-free. I am thankful to say that I am still going strong, and am now fully vaccinated (also thanks to my job). These are just a few of the many joys I have experienced while working during this pandemic.   

Overall, these past eight months have brought copious amounts of hectic stories paired with many positive experiences—this article just scraped the surface. It’s hard to put into words how this job has made my 2020 and 2021 more bearable, but hopefully this article gave you even the smallest glimpse into life as an essential worker. 


And if you are still reading, this is a reminder, next time you’re grocery shopping (it doesn’t have to be Trader Joe’s but extra points if it is) thank some of the employees for working through this chaotic time; trust me, they don’t hear it enough.

Hi i'm Hannah Johnson :) I am an economics major and statistics minor at UCSC! I love red pandas, kombucha, reading, sunsets, and fun socks!
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