• December 2, 2023

The Lives of Essential Workers, One Year Into the Pandemic

“We were called heroes, but I don’t like that word,” says Albarran. “We are just important workers. We do our job as best we can so everyone can have food on their table. “

Hernandez rides a bike full of orders in NYC.

Photo by Hannah La Follette Ryan

Andres Hernandez: DoorDash delivery driver, Queens, NY

“This delivery works, yes, it’s hard. Especially when it rains and snows. Sometimes I get annoyed that people don’t leave tips. They go a long way for three dollars, sometimes a dollar. I work from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and then from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. I ride my e-bike about 50 miles a day. I don’t like it but i need the money. “

Ravon Jones: Assistant to the Cafeteria Manager, Dothan City Schools, Dothan, AL

“This job has always been hard work and it’s even more difficult now because of COVID. Much of the staff is quarantined at home, but we still have to go out and feed these kids. You are no longer allowed to eat in the cafeteria, so we prepare the food there, pack it in refrigerators and deliver it to the various study pods. The teacher comes out and gets what she needs for her class. Most of the time they don’t allow the kids to come out, but we still see them a bit. Even with masks on, they recognize us and know that we are the cafeteria ladies. They wave and say hello. Our hearts enjoy giving them something they may not get at home. This is one of the highlights of a cafeteria worker. Because some of these children are very hungry. As sad as it may be, sometimes this is the only meal they get. “

Burgos-Jackson prepares to serve.

Photo by Hannah La Follette Ryan

Nancy Burgos-Jackson: Cook and Teacher, Red Door Place, NYC

“Before COVID, we all ate together in the church soup kitchen where I work. I went from table to table to say hello to people. They said to me, “Nancy, I feel like I’m in a restaurant without getting my bill.” I wanted to cry. Here I will make you a nice warm meal; I don’t know when you will eat again, but today you will eat the best food in the world with me. I’m not getting that interaction right now, but even with the pandemic, I keep going to church. I am wearing my mask. I wash my hands and practice social distancing. And I do my job. “

Pedro Albarran: Pork Shoulder Deboner, Farmer John, Vernon, CA.

“Many of my employees have gotten sick, and the rest of us are likely to fill the gap. New people come in but don’t last long. Production was ramped up. Sometimes the meat comes on the line before we have finished our 15-minute breaks – that’s now closer to seven minutes because if you remove all PSA and have a snack, the break is essentially over. The line never stops. It’s extremely physically demanding work. There are times when we want to go to the bathroom, but we have to wait for someone on the line to fill us in before we can go. Morale is very low. Everyone is afraid of getting sick, but we try to stay vigilant. The work we do produces the food that makes it to people’s tables. Basic workforce in all industries must be recognized. We want these companies to tell us that we are important, pay us what we are worth and give us the working conditions we deserve. We want companies to stop using up all profits. “

Bucknum with freshly picked vegetables.

Geoff Bucknum: Farm Director, Sunny Harvest Co-op, Kirkwood, PA

“When the pandemic set in, many farmers made an early decision not to plant because they thought it would only lead to losses. We went the other way and said, “You know, as a simple sect [Amish] Community, we farm. ‘It’s especially difficult for our farmers to isolate everything and do it over the phone, but we wanted to serve our customers wherever they are. Grocery and restaurant sales fell massively, but we worked to get USDA grants to deliver grocery boxes and we actually produced and shipped more groceries this year than any year before. I hope this year got people thinking more carefully and asking, “Hey, where is my food coming from? Who do I support? ‘”

Patty Estes, Grocery Cashier, Fred Meyer, Puyallup, WA

“We get temperature checks before the shift, but we could be asymptomatic if we have thousands of customers every day. And then we talk about people who survive on a minimum wage and try to see a doctor. I’ve heard stories from colleagues about family members who tell them they don’t want to see them because they work there. You don’t want to be exposed. It hurts. We’re just trying to make a living. “

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