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CULTON: Be kind to your essential workers

Sunday, after two days of exercising proper social distancing and going stir crazy within my apartment, I decided to make a state-approved trip to the grocery store. I rolled up to the Walmart in Niles, decked out in my finest sweatpants and armed with my trusty hand sanitizer, beginning my journey through the crowded store, making sure to maintain 6 feet between myself and everyone else.

As I was making my way toward the back of the store, I saw it. At the end of a nearly empty and ransacked aisle were boxes of packaged gold. Four packs of toilet paper — which have become elusive in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak — were for sale. I grabbed two.

When I finished my shopping, I took my haul up to the register — including my packs of rare, white paper. As I unloaded my cart, the cashier began to ring me up. When she got to the toilet paper, she paused.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” she said nervously. “Toilet paper is limited to one per customer. There should have been a sign.”

“Oh,” I said, embarrassed. “I’m really sorry. I’ll go take it back.”

Instantly, the cashier relaxed, and I could tell she was relieved by my reaction.

“It’s fine!” she said, handing the extra pack to a coworker to replace on the shelf. “Some people get really upset and argumentative about that. Yesterday, a woman came to my register with a whole cart full of toilet paper, and she just kept arguing and yelling. I eventually told her she had to speak to the manager.”

I can’t say I was quite surprised to hear her story. After all, there have always been people who are rude to service workers, and it’s not like a global pandemic tends to bring out the best in people. Still, it was personally shocking to hear about someone being so ungracious, so unkind to someone who was just trying to do their job.

This long introduction leads me into my public service announcement: be kind to your essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

Obviously, you should be kind to everyone, including customer service workers, all the time, but now more than ever, we all need to treat each other with respect and compassion. Your essential workers, which include those who work in grocery, food, pharmacy, law enforcement, healthcare and more, are doing vital work to ensure we all make it through this crisis. Each one is putting their health — potentially even their lives — at risk to perform the duties that will allow our society to continue to function and us to live our lives. While most of us are hunkered down at home to avoid the treat of the COVID-19 virus, our essential workers are out of the front lines.

I understand that we are all dealing with the stress, worry, inconvenience and fear that comes with living through a lockdown. However, so are all of our essential workers — and they have the added stress of having to work each day with the public, increasing their risk of contracting COVID-19.

Right now, your grocery store clerk is so much more than just the person bagging your fruits and vegetables. She is the one whose work is allowing you to continue putting food on the table for your family. Please, remember that the next time any of you are tempted to lash out because you weren’t allowed to take out an entire stash of toilet paper in one transaction.

Before I left Sunday, I was sure to express my regret that the cashier had been treated poorly and thanked her for continuing to work with everything that was going on. She told me she appreciated that, and I could tell “thank you” wasn’t something she had heard much recently.

Hopefully, if we all try, we can change that.

Dowagiac

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