Thursday, April 16, 2020

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As the Internet rightfully lauds doctors, nurses and other medical personnel as heroes grocery workers have also found themselves on the frontlines of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic as they maintain the public's access to food and household supplies during this crucial time.

Hours before the Easter holiday curfew restrictions took effect, Thursday Food visited the John R Wong supermarket, New Kingston to speak to those who are helping keep our pantries stocked. “They [grocery workers] don't get the recognition they deserve. The truth is they are an essential service provider; one of the reasons why the supermarket is so full today is that we will be limited in our ability to leave our homes for the next three or so days. And these folks, before they think about their own families, they are here trying to support the public...they are unsung heroes, really...and may not be essential service by definition but by practice,” said attorney-at-law and intermittent John R Wong shopper Andr? Marriott-Blake.

These heroes, who while some are allowed to stay at home in an attempt to flatten the curve of infection, are still showing up for work and are now starting to be thrust into a deserved spotlight. Cashier Janice Hodgson whose son has sickle cell anemia, says though she realises the risks involved, she continues to work because she is confident in the supermarket's sanitisation methods and she has a family to take care of. “I sanitise my area before I start working, and I sanitise after I interact with each customer, plus the hand-washing station is right there for us to wash our hands frequently,” said Hodgson.

To safeguard the hygiene and health of staff and customers, John R Wong has installed a hands-free hand-washing station. Positioned mere metres away from the cashier stands, the station's use is obligatory for staff. “We reinstalled the station and chose a station that uses a foot pedal to dispense freshwater because it was most sanitary,” said store manager Pauline Lynch. “In addition to sanitising in between customers, all staff are encouraged to wash their hands every 10-minutes,” she continued.

Further tweaks to operational procedure in light of the COVID-19 include cashiers wearing face shield masks. Sourced locally from Perry's Manufacturing Hotel & Restaurant Supply, the visor allows maximum visibility and protection, which has put the wearers at ease. “We've been wearing the face masks about two weeks now,” said cashier Nidesha McClymont. She admits there was somewhat of a learning curve, but is thankful for the protective gear. “Because we were not used to it, it was a bit uncomfortable at first, but we are fine,” continued McClymont.

And John R Wong regulars have taken notice of the extra measures being undertaken to protect its staff and customers. West Indies Promotions executive Ballentine Smith, an avid shopper, says: “I love that the staff are all well-equipped and that's why I shop here.”
University student and part-time grocery packer Ramoy McLarty says, for the most part, customers are compliant with the new safety measures with some insisting on packing their bags, a practice he says he understands. McClymont says though a large part of what she does goes unrecognised, some customers show their appreciation. She says she has had customers tell her to make sure she's protecting herself, a gesture she admits has not gone unnoticed as she continues to carry out her duties.

As we continue to praise our essential workers, let's remember the unsung heroes. These workers deserve our appreciation, respect, and support.

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