© 2022 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
WFAE's Social Distancing series looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, work, learn and connect with each other. The series is hosted by reporter Sarah Delia.

Social Distancing: Remember To Be Kind To The Grocery Store Employees


Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, all of our lives have changed in some way. Maybe that means you’re working from home for the first time or having to put off a major life event like a wedding or funeral.

It might mean you’re out of work, taking an unexpected financial hit … or juggling work while having your kids at home.

In our new series Social Distancing, WFAE’s Sarah Delia speaks with you, our listeners about the challenges you’re facing. WFAE is trying to do its best to work remotely, so the majority of this series, including the interviews, are being done from Sarah’s dining room table.

In our first installment, Delia spoke to a Charlotte grocery store manager who is on the front lines ... dealing with an anxious public, while trying to take care of her staff and herself at the same time.

By now you’ve probably ventured out at least once to get food, pet supplies, and of course, the most coveted item of all — toilet paper. It's an item that is so rare to see in the wild these days, it’s almost becoming an urban legend.

If you've been out foraging, you might have run into 35-year-old Marie. She’s a manager at a grocery store in Charlotte.

"We’re not getting in huge pallets of toilet paper. I haven’t seen toilet paper in days," Marie said. "When it was released that people in Mecklenburg County had tested positive, it was just like, it felt like a ‘whoosh’ came over the store. And next thing you know, lines are backed up everywhere."

We’re not going to mention which store that is, and we’re using her middle name. She’s not sure how her employer would feel about her talking to the media.

Marie and her team are still going to work even as the virus spreads, to help you, the customer, get what you need. And it’s not easy.

"You know some of the public is very thankful that we are here, but a lot of times I feel like we are kind of taken for granted," Marie said. "People are upset that they can’t get what they need. And we feel for them -- but there is nothing that we can do about it. And I think it’s important that people remember that.

"Like we are trying, we are doing our best to keep everyone happy and keeping ourselves at a pace and mental state where we can function. When people are getting upset, I have to step back and remind myself that I honestly think this is so traumatic for everyone that when they are lashing out it’s because they are scared. Everybody is scared."

There’s a slight tremble in Marie’s voice and it wavers a little throughout our conversation. She says this is likely the most stressed she’s been in her life. While some people have turned to social media to connect with others, she’s had to limit her amount of screen time. The influx of information, she says, is too much. 

"It’s hard for me to check Facebook and see like ‘Oh we’re being advised not to be in a room (with) more than 10 people,’" Marie said. "OK, well, I’m going to go in and be around thousands. It’s hard to take all that in because it gets scary.

"I know people are sharing because they want to spread this information. But when you are at it on this level, it’s like, 'We know, we don’t need 20 people to remind us that we could be screwed.'"

By this point we’re heard from both local and national officials that we should be living our lives as if we’ve come into contact with the virus. And that just because we don’t feel sick, doesn’t mean we aren’t.

And that’s hard to do when you still have to work and interact with the public in close quarters. Marie’s husband delivers packages. It’s hard for them to social distance at work, and that has an impact on their family.

"I think the biggest challenge for me is wondering if my family is going to be safe through all of it," she said. "I love my mom. I miss her. But she is older. I would love to go see her, but because of my exposure here, I’m afraid to. That’s really hard to be taking care of so many people, but yet not knowing if the people closest to you are going to be OK and be taken care of, I think that is the hardest for me."

Marie is exhausted, but can’t sleep at night. The fear of the future and uncertainty around what will happen next is almost paralyzing. So she made a telehealth appointment with a doctor. 

"I’m at the point where I don’t know if I can keep all of this together," Maire said. "I’ve never been on any sort of anxiety medication in the past. I’m not opposed to taking that route because I need to make sure that I’m strong for everyone else to be strong and I want to take care of myself as best I can."

Self-care the other night looked like skipping an intense crime drama rerun and turning on a movie that would make her laugh -- a Robin Williams classic, "Mrs. Doubtfire." 

Marie takes solace in these distractions. She says as soon as she wakes up tomorrow morning, her mind will be racing on what the latest news is. How much worse will things get before things start to turn around, she wonders? And how will her loved ones fare? 

WFAE wants to hear from you. If you’d like to share your story on the new challenges you’re facing in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, give us a call and leave a voicemail. The number is 704-916-9114. Or go wfae.org for more information. Follow WFAE for the latest news. And we hope you and your loved ones are taking care. 

Sarah Delia covers criminal justice and the arts for WFAE. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.