Angie Boing, a drug/GM clerk, has worked for Kroger for 17 years, but the job changed last spring.
In March, doctors began identifying cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the state. Soon after, the pandemic spread to northeast Tennessee.
To help slow the spread of the new virus, Governor Bill Lee declared an emergency in the state and issued orders restricting business activity and encouraging residents to stay home whenever possible.
But people still needed groceries.
Boing and his colleagues have been labeled “essential employees” by the state and given a special exception to the home security order.
At first, Boing said they didn’t know what to expect. Would the police enforce the order? Would she need papers to prove she was essential?
“When it appeared that we were essential, it was pretty good,” she said. “It highlights the importance of the grocery chain business and what we do.”
As the virus spread through the community, business at Boing’s store north of Johnson City exploded. Stuck at home, people have started stocking up on food and cleaning supplies like hand sanitizer, disinfectants and face masks.
“It’s almost like it’s Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving, and a snow alert all rolled into one,” Boing said. “It lasted two good months in a row. It was like in the movie “Groundhog Day”. Every day we came and it was the same process over and over.
Boing said alcohol and hand sanitizers are still popular items even after the safe-at-home order was lifted. They disappeared from the shelves almost as soon as she put them away.
To reduce crowds in stores, Kroger waived its curbside grocery pickup fee and encouraged service. Curbside orders quadrupled, and the company trained its employees to choose items from shelves and prepare them for online ordering.
The store also instituted designated shopping hours for seniors and other at-risk customers, when it was safe to shop. Employees were also asked to wear face masks and regular hand washing was encouraged.
Before Washington County mandated face masks, Boing said a customer made cloth masks for Kroger employees, a gesture of appreciation.
Some regular customers have stopped coming, opting for curbside pickup instead. Boing said he misses them and hopes they can visit them in person soon.
“Sometimes we would see them four or five times a week,” she said. “We might see some of them more than we see some of our family members. They become like family to us.
Throughout the pandemic, Boing said it’s the Kroger team’s cooperation and focus that has enabled them to meet challenges and continue to serve customers.
“I couldn’t do my job if I didn’t have the people I work with,” she says. “We really need an army. A single person could not do it alone.