Teenagers become essential workers in the midst of COVID-19


Elizabeth Pischke

Senior Grace Pender stocks a high in demand item during her shift at Fareway.

Elizabeth Pischke, Copy Editor

Since COVID-19 began its reign in March, its effects have been seen far and wide. For some Pleasant Valley students, the pandemic’s effects brought them a daunting new job title: essential worker. 


Many PV students have part-time jobs outside of school. However, for students like senior Grace Pender, who works at Fareway, quarantine brought on a whole new level of responsibility to their jobs. As mass panic spread throughout the country, people rushed to grocery stores fearing the worst and creating chaos as they stocked up on what they could find. 


Stores such as the local Fareway and HyVees saw a significant increase in the amount of customers who shopped each day. “At the beginning it was crazy,” Pender reflected on the first weeks of quarantine. “I was very overwhelmed, and I was working three times the amount of hours I’d usually get in a week.”


Senior Jake Gneiting, who works at the Bettendorf HyVee, agreed that those first weeks were especially hectic. “It was person after person for an entire shift,” he said. “It was extremely stressful when something went wrong because you had to help quickly before things got backed up.”


The number of customers these stores catered to each day only elevated as the weeks went on. Hundreds of people would line up outside the doors before the opening hour, and the traffic flow they created didn’t settle until late at night. Both HyVee and Fareway adjusted their hours in hopes that it would lessen the amount of people in the store to better protect customers and employees. 


Adding to the stress of the new crowds in the store, Pender felt working closely with an opinionated public was another battle. “My store didn’t require masks, so not only did I feel unsafe, I was getting harassed by customers for not wearing one. Plus, I’d get yelled at by customers for running out of items and not knowing when they’d be back in stock,” she explained. 


“It was difficult to hear people because of the masks, so I had to ask the same question multiple times,” Gneiting commented on his experience working with the public. Gneiting also faced his share of judgmental customers, “If people were against wearing masks or our cleaning procedures, they would give me a weird look whenever I wiped down the belt.”


Working closely with the public during the pandemic opened the eyes of both Gneiting and Pender. Pender noted her perspective on the community had been changed in a more negative way after seeing more of the true colors the customers possessed. “It became really clear why there’s a problem [with controlling the pandemic] because people were just rude and uncooperative,” she said. 


However, for Gneiting, his experience was more eye-opening in terms of what his new role was. “I usually don’t think of myself as an essential worker,” he confessed. “It wasn’t until someone thanked me for working that I realized I was doing more than I would do in ‘normal’ times.”


Although the hysteria at both Fareway and HyVee are memories of the past, for Pender and Gneiting, the memories of working endless hours with a sometimes demanding and unorderly public, along with the pressure of being an essential worker, will not soon be forgotten.