PEOPLE's Voices from the Coronavirus Crisis will share firsthand accounts of the people facing unique challenges during a global pandemic

By People Staff
March 30, 2020 01:32 PM
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Sarah is a mother of three young kids with another on the way. After being laid-off from her full-time position, she took a part-time job at Trader Joe’s – which she then voluntarily left amid the coronavirus pandemic to focus on the health of her family and herself. The 39-year-old mom, who was born in New Zealand but now lives in New Jersey, opens up about her experience of working at a grocery store when its employees are considered essential – and who are risking coronavirus exposure from crowds – and making the difficult decision of choosing health over income.

I’m 21 weeks pregnant and I have three young children, ages 12, 8 and 6.

I was working part-time hours at Trader Joe’s — I went in a few times at the start of all of this madness — and eventually, I felt really uncomfortable being in that environment. Working at Trader Joe’s, you have to rotate duties. Between being right in customers’ faces at the registers, to being out on the shop floor and helping people and back office, you’re in close contact with everyone.

The good thing was, throughout the day, they give you many opportunities to leave your post and go clean and do your sanitizing and take a break if you needed to. They were very good about all of that stuff, but in the end, looking through different articles about risk factors associated with the disease, I decided I just couldn’t be in front of people all day.

I went back and forth with management there about any way to make my duties a little bit different because of my high risk with pregnancy, and I also have Type 2 Diabetes. So, they gave me the leave of absence option, which they supported – but obviously, it’s unpaid.

Trader Joe’s is one of the best employers that I’ve ever worked for, and it was only a part-time job. They said I can come back whenever this calms down. So, I just had to make a call for my health. They said, “It’s more important that I’m out of harm’s way” because it is a very front-line position.

The company has been very supportive, though. They’ve called twice already, in two weeks, to check up on me and see how I’m doing.

But making the decision was hard. I wouldn’t call it lucky, but I was semi-lucky enough to be able to go on unemployment back in late January because I was laid off my regular full-time job. So, we were already taking a cut, losing full-time income for unemployment. Any extra money I was making was contributing to the house — that was our grocery money, our gas money, whatever it would be. I really had to talk to my husband, who works at a trucking repair agency, and say, “I know it’s not safe that we’ll be losing a couple of hundred dollars a week.” And it has been tougher. But the only good thing about it is, we’re not going anywhere or doing anything, so we only have the essential things to afford.

My husband, however, still goes to work but he is going into his own office. And when he comes home, he’s not to touch any of us, straight into the shower.

When I was working at Trader Joe’s, I found, in general, that the customers we dealt with were very patient and understanding. They understood that it’s an uncertain time. I never really came across a difficult customer. I actually was given a Dunkin Donuts gift card from a customer, thanking me for coming in.

So everyone was pretty orderly and Trader Joe’s does a really good job of controlling that environment. But even if they had offered me a few extra dollars, I still probably would have bowed out because I think my health is more important.

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And now, I’m at home. Trying to do distance learning with three children is difficult. I’m used to having some downtime and I don’t get that right now. But overall, everything is good.

We’ve been doing a reward system at home with the kids called “C” bucks, for corona-bucks. The kids collect dollars if they do their work, or if they’re not arguing, etc. And when things open, we’re looking forward to getting out with them and doing something social. It’ll be a treat for them.

As far as my pregnancy, I have regular appointments coming up. I do question going in for certain things but at the same time, I feel like things like maternal doctor’s appointments are pretty well policed.

I’m just hoping that they don’t implement the “no partners” delivery restrictions that I’m seeing in New York. [Editors’ Note: After hospitals initially barred partners from delivery rooms, New York state ordered that policy to be rolled back.] I am not due until August, but I am hoping they don’t. It’s awful for some people who have got a difficult delivery ahead of them.

And I’m supposed to have my mother come over from New Zealand. She’s there now and it’s a whole different ballgame, seeing how they’re approaching it over there. She wouldn’t come right now anyway, but I’m hoping later. I’m just hoping all of this goes away.

  • As told to Morgan Evans