‘There’s more fear, more panic than I’ve ever seen’

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Kroger cashier Courtney Meadows has just about seen it all in her check-out line during the past 10 years but she says nothing compares to the madness caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Meadows, who works at a Kroger in Beckley, said she’s seen a rush on the store before but March 13 was different than all the rest.

Courtney Meadows

“I’ve worked through two derechos, snow scares, holidays and first of the month (check days) and this is absolutely the worse I’ve ever seen it,” Meadows told MetroNews. “There was more panic, more fear than I’ve ever seen.”

She said it’s let up some now but for three solid weeks there was “nothing but a sea of people out there.”

“That’s with every one of your registers open, all of your self-checkouts open, everything going full-force and there was literally one after another, after another,” Meadows said. “It was literally non-stop.”

Kroger Pharmacy Tech Travis Boothe saw more of a gradual change.

He said when information about the possible impact of the coronavirus on West Virginia began to surface it wasn’t being taken seriously by many customers.

“They were still coming in the store, people were laughing about it but that quickly changed,” Boothe said. “We saw a shift in mannerisms.”

Travis Boothe

Boothe and Meadows are members of Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. Boothe said he’s thankful union leadership and the rank-and-file spoke out about their concerns for workers safety.

“We now has masks and sneeze guards and cleaning efforts have been strengthened,” Boothe said.

But he would like to see more.

“I think we need full shielding across the entire pharmacy. I think we need to be seeing more protections on that front,” Boothe said.

Boothe also hopes grocery workers receive emergency personnel designation.

“Just so that we have access to testing when it’s available, access to personal protection equipment when it comes available. Just the same as firefighters or hospital workers,” he said.

Social distancing requirements and limitations on the amount of certain products that can be purchased have reduced the rush in many stores but empty shelves aren’t uncommon a month after the pandemic began.

Boothe’s two questions moving forward are about a possible second wave of coronavirus and the state of the economy.

“I think we need to put health and safety of the public and workers and the forefront of economy moving forward,” he said. “We’re not talking about the second wave or the third wave that could possibly come into effect.”

Meadows, who is now taking some time off for a medical issue, hopes when she returns to work some things have changed but other things have not.

“I’ve seen a level of kindness brought out in people that you usually don’t see,” she said. “They’ve said, ‘Thank you for being here. Thank you for serving us. Thank you for putting your life on the line for us.’ That’s something that I don’t want to see change.”

Meadows said it’s not just customer-to-worker but it’s also customer-to-customer.

“I’ve seen people show more kindness and be more grateful. That’s something I hope never goes back to normal,” she said.

Two large food banks in West Virginia thanked Kroger last week for donating more than $40,000 to their efforts.

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