Quarantine Chronicles: Jami Calandros

JAMI CALANDROS works the night shift at Kroger doing grocery pickup, a job she’s had for just five months.

In that time, she’s witnessed toilet paper fights and meltdowns aplenty, but she’s also experienced kindness and gratitude and done her best to take care of her customers, who she loves and cares for.

This is her Quarantine Chronicle.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY GEOFF L. JOHNSON
Photo by Geoff L. Johnson

How are you?

I’m doing okay. I’m just exhausted—I just worked eight days in a row. That’s just how the days off worked with the department.

I work in ClickList, which for Kroger is our grocery pickup service. Before this happened, my department was already kind of stressed because grocery pickup is a popular thing. My Kroger specifically is on Wilmington Island, so it’s a lot of elderly folks, new moms, a lot of customers that really need to not be in the store.

My department is super stressed right now. It’s the most critical part of the store in response to what’s happening. The demands of the department right now are outstanding because our orders have literally tripled in the last month. We used to get about 40 orders a day, and now when I walk in I’m looking at 120 orders a day.

Before all this happened, we used to come in at 5 a.m. and and we’d start packing the order through the store. Since this has happened, we actually had to start a night crew because we have so many orders. I do night staff and I’m actually training new people at the same time while I’m running a night crew because we have so many orders.

At this point, the department is stressed. We are tired. I’ve had people cuss me out over toilet paper. For every nice person, there is a bad person. Some of them have been really great. I had one customer give me a gift card to Squirrel’s Pizza, so that was sweet.

But then the other day I was loading groceries, and this guy got out of his car and started screaming at me and cussing at me while I was loading groceries into another woman’s vehicle. The other lady apologized for this man, who she did not know, and then he walked inside the store, which completely nullifies the idea of a grocery pickup service. He walked through the store to complain. We were just like, “Sir, we’re just backed up. We can’t help it; it’s not an instantaneous thing.”

What was his problem? Just that it was taking too long?

Just that he was there first. And he had been waiting over half an hour, according to him. That’s when I decided I was going to night shift.

That was your choice?

With Kroger, my understanding is if we request to go to night shift, they can’t really tell us no because of everything. They’ve given us a lot of options. You can go on a personal leave for two weeks, or you can switch to night shift.

It’s nice you can make those choices for yourself.

Well, Kroger is part of a union. It’s the United Food and Commercial Workers of America; there’s 1.3 million of us. The union is the reason that we have what we have: masks, gloves, giant bottles of hand sanitizer. [Kroger] has done stuff to protect us as much as they have, but the union has had to fight for a lot of that.

One day we got all these masks in and I was like, “What the hell is going on? How did we manage to get masks when there’s this huge shortage?” And then I read an article that they think between 30 to 40 people in the union have died from the virus and I was like, “No wonder we’re getting masks: we’re dying.”

Are you afraid?

No, I’m not. I have coworkers that are scared, but for the most part, I think a lot of us are glad to be employed. It sounds cheesy, but a lot of us really care about our customers. A lot of my customers, I know on a first name basis because that’s just me. I’m not scared because I’m more scared for them to go in the store.

How long have you been at Kroger?

I started working at Kroger in January 2019 until May, when I went to West Virginia. When I came back to Savannah to restart my whole life, I came to Kroger to say hey to my old friends and they were like, “How many hours do you want?”

Right before Thanksgiving, I asked to go to ClickList, and they were like, “Well, right now it’s the holidays, so it’s crazy, but it’ll slow down.” It has yet to slow down.

I feel like Kroger has done a really good job of trying to handle this, especially with them being the biggest primary grocer in America. Honestly, in my opinion, this job is kind of gold right now if I can just manage to not get the virus, because I’m guaranteed employment and I’m in a union. I don’t know if I could handle it if I didn’t have the union backing me.

Every department is tired and stressed. We’ve all been working 40-hour weeks, whether we’re part time or full time. It’s really surreal working in a grocery store right now. People line up at the door at 7 a.m. We let the elderly in first, they line up and all go straight to the toilet paper and then they disperse. One day we left all the toilet paper in boxes and put it in the aisle and let the people go for it, and they went through nine entire pallets of toilet paper in 45 minutes.

I guess I picked a hell of a time to go into grocery store pickup as a backup job. I really did. I picked up this gig five months ago and now I’m like, are you kidding me? I can’t wait to be old—if I live through this—to be like, “I worked at a curbside grocery during the pandemic, okay? Don’t ever tell me I’m not a badass again.”

How does it feel to be working?

I could’ve sat at home on unemployment. I know this sounds really cheesy, but if I had the opportunity to go help people—especially elderly people, because I’m a grandma enthusiast—if I can help them, if I can shop for these old ladies that can’t come in the store because they’re high risk, then dammit, I’m going to do it. Why not?

I helped this one old lady who came in the store and she was like, “My husband is 71 and my sister is on chemo, so I said I’d be the one to go to the store.” She should not have been at the store. I was like, “Can I see your list?” I stopped everything I was doing and got her in and out of Kroger within 15 minutes myself. And I’m not going to lie, I felt a little bit like a hero.

I’ve known people that are like, “Fuck this job, I’m just here.” But I couldn’t do it if it was like that. I always used to be down on myself for working in a grocery store. I was always like, “I didn’t go to college for this, this was not in the cards!”

But now I’m like, this wasn’t the worst decision. It was just a different decision than what we originally thought was going to happen. I didn’t become a lawyer, I’m a lesbian that lives in Savannah and works in a grocery store. That’s fine! It works out.

CS

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