Keeping Food on our Tables: Grocery Workers

We salute the newly minted essential workers at Foodland in Caledon East and across our region for working overtime in the aisles for us.

November 24, 2020 | | Local Heroes

Until last spring, people who work in grocery stores may not have considered themselves essential workers, but when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, they suddenly found themselves on the front lines.

For Matthew Geiser, the newly minted manager of Foodland in Caledon East, the pandemic was a baptism of fire. The 28-year-old was just nine days into his new job when the Ontario government declared a state of emergency on March 17.

“I started managing the store on March 8,” said Matthew, son of franchise owners Donni and Kurt Geiser. “When Covid hit, I felt overwhelmed, getting things thrown at us all the time. Customers were always coming in to tell us what they heard on the news.”

Foreground: Kurt and Donni Geiser with son and store manager Matthew. Background, from left: Massimo Policciardi, Morgan Innis, Renata Kolaric-Blas, Brenda Brook, Ron Persaud, Cassidy Sandru, Mitchell Greenham, Josh Inglis, Brenda Cordon, Linda Widdes, Cecilia Navarro, Kait Laurenza, Julie James, Maddie Belfry and Erik Rasmussen. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Foreground: Kurt and Donni Geiser with son and store manager Matthew. Background, from left: Massimo Policciardi, Morgan Innis, Renata Kolaric-Blas, Brenda Brook, Ron Persaud, Cassidy Sandru, Mitchell Greenham, Josh Inglis, Brenda Cordon, Linda Widdes, Cecilia Navarro, Kait Laurenza, Julie James, Maddie Belfry and Erik Rasmussen. Photo by Pete Paterson.

Every one of the store’s 85 full- and part-time staff pitched in and worked, not just to the end of a shift but until the job was done. “We started making sure we had one another’s backs, following protocols, doing our best to keep everyone safe,” he said.

Department managers worked seven days a week to make sure shelves were stocked and to help keep up with the new routines: sanitizer at every checkout, washing hands every 15 minutes and disinfecting freezer doors, shopping-cart handles and other touch points, also every 15 minutes. “To keep the store in tip-top shape … everyone put in endless hours,” he said. “They’d work on their days off, and it meant a lot to us.”

The Geisers’ Caledon East Foodland has long offered home delivery, but as more people began isolating and avoiding crowds, demand for delivery and curbside service went up considerably. “It really came on close to the end of March and has been non-stop ever since,” said Matthew. “Things slowed down in the summer, but now with the second wave, they’re picking back up again.” As some staff stock shelves, others are busy emptying them to fill customers’ orders. “We always aim for same-day or next-day delivery,” said Donni, “so we often put in long hours.”

In their small town, the Geisers know many of their customers personally, and their customers know them – and Matthew found that people were supportive of the store’s efforts to adapt to the unpredictable circumstances.

“Customers understood that we were trying our best to make sure that everyone was staying safe,” he said. “They’d keep their distance in the store and knew we needed to keep ours. They knew there’d be longer lineups and waited outside until customers cleared. No one seemed to be in a rush to go anywhere, and if we didn’t have something on the shelves, they understood.” Though the shortage of toilet paper stole the headlines last spring, there were empty spaces on other shelves as well.

The resilience, patience and hard work of the workers at Foodland, and of so many others like them at grocery stores across the hills, have gone a long way toward keeping us fed through these trying times.

Grocery Workers: One of our 2020 Local Heroes

About the Author More by Tony Reynolds

Tony Reynolds is a freelance writer who lives happily above Broadway in Orangeville.

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