Martin Lopez /HIGHLANDER

I never would have thought that I would be one of the brave people out serving the community during the coronavirus pandemic. Whether it be working at a grocery store or a small ice cream shop, being an essential worker during this strange time has definitely been a humbling experience. Everything about my job has changed since the first time I started working there last year and it was hard to cope with everything at first. Nonetheless, I’ve learned that patience and kindness goes a long way. Most importantly, I discovered the importance of paying the kindness forward to other essential workers as the job of serving a quarantined community is harder than it looks. 

In the early days of the pandemic, everything was dead. It was a very frightening time. More than usual, my shifts would get canceled except for one Saturday or Sunday. Due to this, my paychecks were often less than fifty dollars and I barely made enough tips to buy myself lunch. I was beginning to get worried about my shifts getting canceled because I couldn’t afford crucial necessities such as gas or materials for class. I began to seriously consider quitting and filing for unemployment due to the fact that I just couldn’t make ends meet. 

As May came around, people began getting restless with quarantine and started to go outside again. We had to make a lot of preparations including marking the floor so that people stand six feet apart and away from our counter. At first, this influx of customers gave me a lot of hope for the future. However, I soon realized that the real danger I was now in.

People didn’t like listening to the markings on the floor and would lean on the glass counter separating us. They would constantly stick their hands over and point at what toppings they wanted, thus touching everything even though there were clear displays in front of them. It was nerve wracking how easily people forget that essential workers are humans who are susceptible to the virus and germs just as easily as anyone else. People even came in without wearing a mask and even leaned on the glass and breathed on us. In the end, we would have to ask them to step back or leave the store.

Of course, there was a lot of push back and most of our requests ended with a disgruntled customer either leaving or yelling at us. We all started to get seriously worried about our health as more and more people began to show up. 

Since everything started, the staff and I have  learned to be more communicative with each other about what makes us comfortable. As a shift lead, my main goal is to ensure that all of the new employees I train feel safe at all times. I make sure to put their health and well-being above anything else. Everyone pitches in and brings extra masks, gloves and sanitizers so that we all feel as clean as possible.

During my experience as an essential worker during the pandemic, I have learned that you must be very patient in navigating this difficult time. I began to see how hard it is for minimum wage workers who are required to carry communities on their backs during quarantine. Whenever I go to the other food shops around me, I make sure to show utmost kindness and support for what they are doing for the community. I always tip very generously because they could have been in the same position as I was in when the pandemic first started. 

Being an essential worker has definitely shown me the importance of supporting small businesses during this time. Many workers are trying to make a living which may be impossible if their shifts are getting canceled as mine were; I want to give them as much of my business as I possibly can. I want people to read about my experience as an essential worker and try to be kinder to essential workers during this time. 

It’s important to recognize that the people behind the counter are humans too and are just as capable of catching the virus as anyone else. Essential workers are making a sacrifice to support themselves and their community. Therefore, the most crucial lesson people should take from this is that we’re all human and we’re all learning how to navigate this new normal.