Coronavirus: Long days take toll on grocery store employees

Dots Market employees, left, Max Sands and Bob Brown, along with others have been working seven days week to help the store stay stocked up for customers. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF
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Dots Market employees, left, Max Sands and Bob Brown, along with others have been working seven days week to help the store stay stocked up for customers. MARSHALL GORBYSTAFF

Dayton-area grocery store employees have worked long, arduous hours in the past week as customers — some irate — rush to build up their food supplies in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In some cases, clerks have had to work seven consecutive days, and stores have adjusted their hours to allow employees to spend more time with their families, but also to restock shelves and sanitize their facilities.

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“We are all human and, yes, we have the same worries as everyone,” said Jessie Kuhn, marketing and communications director for Dorothy Lane Market. “But it is because of our commitment to our families, our community and our company that we are here and we are trying our best. We ask that people remember that as they see us in the stores. A smile and a kind word go a long way.”

Long work days during a crisis can take a mental toll on people, and could lead to alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and other problems, said Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director of the Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services.

“We are in a space that we have not occupied before in terms of how we are trying to manage our own safety and mental wellness, as well as being of service to others,” she said. “Schools are closed, we have kids at home, a lot of people have elderly relatives or other people that they are providing care for. And it’s really hard to work when you’ve got to worry about everything else that is going on in your personal life.”

Several Dayton-area grocers such as Dorothy Lane Market and Kroger are looking to hire additional employees to give their staff some relief while also meeting customers’ demands.

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“We anticipate our associates are going to have to spend some time at home taking care of their kids and taking care of their family. We want to make sure that we’re prepared for that,” said Erin Rolfes, spokeswoman for Kroger’s Cincinnati-Dayton division.

The company announced that it is looking to hire about 10,000 workers nationwide in a variety of positions at its grocery stores, warehouses and distribution centers. Those who qualify could begin working in as little as 48 hours after after applying, Rolfes said. The positions and applications can be found at jobs.kroger.com.

Many of the open positions likely existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, including 200-300 vacancies in the Cincinnati-Dayton division, she said, noting that the company isn’t putting a cap on the number of people they hire in the region.

Dorothy Lane Market is looking to hire up to 100 temporary workers at its three area stores to give their employees some relief and assist people who may have been laid off from restaurants, bars and other businesses that have been hurt by the pandemic, said Scott Achs, assistant store director at the Washington Square location at 6177 Far Hills Ave. Job seekers can apply on the company's website, DorothyLane.com/Careers.

The number of associates they’re looking to hire could change as the situation evolves.

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Employment is one of the best ways to help people so they can pay their bills, Jones-Kelley said.

“They have a healthy place to go with some activities to engage in, rather than sitting at home with nothing else to do,” she said. “So, this has so many layers right now, with respect to the overall mental wellness of the community.”

Employment aside, area stores the Dayton Daily News talked to said all of their employees have worked overtime since cases appeared in Ohio and DeWine ordered schools, restaurants and bars to close.

The long hours, taking steps to ensure that employees and customers don’t get sick and the fact that they have not been able to fulfill all of their customers’ needs have been “very stressful” for the Dorothy Lane Market staff, Achs said.

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Many area stores have had to alter their hours in an effort to give workers some relief, in addition to restocking the shelves and other administrative duties at the stores. All Kroger stores in the Cincinnati-Dayton region will be open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. until further notice, Rolfes said. Likewise, Dot’s, located at 2274 Patterson Road, adjusted its hours, and is now open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., store owner Nick Moshos said.

“I want them to be able to go home and be with their families,” he said. “I’m very proud and thankful for my employees. We could not do this without them. “

Barbara Hay, who works in Dot’s meat department, said in her 21 years at the store, she’s never been as busy as they’ve been the past week. The fear of contracting the coronavirus coupled with the influx of customers were initially stressful for her. But she’s come to grips with it.

“I just left it in God’s hands,” Hay said. “It worried me at first, but I’ve just left it in God’s hands, and what’s going to happen is going to happen. I just pray that people have the sense to do the right thing so this doesn’t spread.”

Hay takes extra precautions to protect herself and others around her because she’s vulnerable, given her age and health, she said, noting that she has emphysema.

Diane Chasteen, a cashier in the home delivery department, said while the store has been chaotic the past couple of weeks, she’s been taking things one day at a time.

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Yet the staff remains professional and continues to treat customers with the utmost respect, said Scott Thomas, a Belmont resident who has been shopping at Dot’s for about 40 years.

The majority of customers are understanding and patient with the staff. But once in a while a customer becomes irate and verbally abusive toward the workers, Moshos and other area grocery store employees say.

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