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Wondering what it's like to work in a grocery store during a pandemic? Here's one who can tell you...

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Carmen Chasteen (third from left) has worked at Woodstock Safeway for 43 years. She is shown here with co-workers and friends, from left: Alonzo Hardin, Service Operations Manager; Barbara Tice, versatile clerk and file maintenance; Carmen; and Benny Quintanilla, the new Store Director. We know that the public has expressed tremendous appreciation for food store workers, among other essential and frontline workers, who have stayed on the job, serving the community, during the pandemic. But how much do we really know about the life changes and coping strategies needed by frontline grocery store employees?

After more than four decades on the job, Carmen Chasteen – today a Woodstock Safeway front end manager of self-checkout – is proud and happy to be a frontline worker: One of those who keep us supplied and safe, in spite of added responsibilities and concerns for their own health during the time of COVID-19.

Faithfully showing up at work for forty-three years, in many different positions, Chasteen began as a night shift checker at Woodstock Safeway in November 1976, and moved on and up into a variety of different positions over the years. But this past March when COVID-19 began to spread, she took a three-month leave of absence.

"When the pandemic hit in March, the public officials said 'stay home, stay safe', and [under] doctor's orders I stayed home from March 20 to July 5th, until more was known about the virus, and how to work and be safe," explained Chasteen, who is over 60.

Chasteen remarks that the Woodstock Safeway employees were a lifeline for her while she stayed home to remain safe. After forty-three years, it was not easy to be away and isolated, and they kept her in touch. "They kept me in the loop on the condition of the store, and how they were all coping with work during this time. Barbara Tice, a loyal and very versatile employee and friend of mine, was an especially big help keeping me informed on how to be safe when coming back to work."

Now working four days a week instead of five, Chasteen comments, "The first two weeks it was hard to get used to wearing the mask, but I figured it out – how to adjust it so I can breathe a little better – and I also wear a [plastic face] shield for extra protection. I now feel safe enough to be in the workforce of the pandemic world."

Chasteen continues as a front end service clerk, and gives credit to her loyal customers for her receiving recognition, over a number of years, as a Safeway Presidential survey award winner. She reports with a smile, "Alonzo (Service Operations Manager) calls me the Golden Goose, because of my high scoring on the surveys."

Her motivation for working for so many decades, and now continuing during the pandemic, has been to faithfully serve her customers and to create an enjoyable life for herself and her family.

"After I started as a checker in 1976, I worked a few years from 3 p.m. to midnight, so I could buy a new house in Sandy, Oregon, for my two small children and me."

These days Chasteen arrives at work at 7 a.m. and helps get the store ready following the pandemic protocols. "I clean down all self-check stands before opening that area for customers, and then clean with disinfectant every chance I can. The whole store is cleaned before opening the doors for customers. The safety of our customers and ourselves is our first priority."

Currently, protective masks are required for all employees and customers. Customers who arrive without one will be given a mask, although they are encouraged to bring their own.

When a customer approached Alonzo Hardin, Service Operations Manager, expressing how grateful she was for the store now making a big effort to follow pandemic protocols, Hardin said her comment gave him goose bumps, and remarked, "The store is really turning around [regarding coronavirus protocols]. And, we appreciate this press coverage [from THE BEE]."


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