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Grocery stores during the pandemic

MVHS students who work at grocery stores discuss reasons for taking leaves of absence

April 17, 2020

Senior Jasmine Sheu wanted to continue working at Whole Foods after MVHS announced that school would be closing for three weeks, effective March 13 (the school closure has since been extended to the remainder of the school year) to have something to occupy her time. However, her parents insisted she take some time off to reduce her chances of contracting COVID-19. Sheu vividly recalls her last day at work: customers wearing masks and maintaining distance from one another, hurriedly going about their shopping. That was the day she realized the true scope of the virus. 

“I guess nobody really knew that coronavirus would get so bad,” Sheu said. “It was good that my parents made me stop working because if I kept working, I definitely think I would’ve put my family’s health at risk because I would be interacting with the public.”

Senior Neha Balasu, who also works at Whole Foods, experienced a similar situation — she initially didn’t want to take a break from work, but after seeing the magnitude of COVID-19, she grew “paranoid.” Both Balasu and Sheu have taken a leave of absence that was originally scheduled to end on April 7, but has since been extended indefinitely. Sheu explains that Whole Foods is lenient with leaves of absence for employees who are minors in the current pandemic situation. 

According to Sheu, all her coworkers who attend MVHS whom she knows of are taking leaves of absence right now. Sheu herself feels lucky to have the option to stop working, as her family is financially stable and her job at Whole Foods was merely a way for her to earn some extra money. She empathizes with her coworkers who are financially dependent on their salaries and don’t have the option to take a break from work. 

“They have to continue working,” Sheu said. “I think that’s kind of the only choice, right? It sucks. [Whole Foods] provides gloves and protection, [but] definitely not enough because there’s not much of a distance [maintained between customers and employees]. I don’t think [the current precautions] would make a big difference.”

Based on her observations from her last few days working at Whole Foods, Balasu also believes that working conditions for employees aren’t currently safe at grocery stores.

“I know from the last day that I was working, we had Clorox wipes at every check out and we wiped down anytime that we could,” Balasu said. “But that was about it from the last shift that I had. [Gloves] weren’t a requirement or anything, but most people would just have them because we wanted to.”

Sheu misses the social aspects of working at Whole Foods — she enjoyed the job as it taught her valuable life skills, like how to operate in a work environment, while also allowing her to connect with people. 

“I loved the customer interaction [aspect of working at Whole Foods] because I get to meet new people every day and they were all so different,” Sheu said. “[It was a] good chance for me to meet new people and learn new things. It’s that social interaction that we’re all craving so much right now.”

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