Tara Bone, contributing writer
Like most Utahns, when the first confirmed Utah COVID-19 case was made public on March 6, Cache Valley residents took inventory of their food supplies and a frenzy of mass buying ensued amid fear of the unknown.
While residents stocked up and hunkered down at home in the coming weeks, all grocery store workers, including those at Lee’s Marketplace in Smithfield and Logan, kept shelves stocked and food orders filled.
Jonathan Badger, president and CEO of Lee’s Marketplace, says he and the Lee’s Marketplace team are grateful that they could be an essential business to offer help to the community during an unprecedented time. He adds that food is a basic necessity that sometimes is taken for granted. The employees at Lee’s worked hard to keep food services going.
“Our team members are heroes for facing the pandemic,” Jonathan said. “They’ve met the challenges head-on. They made it happen.”
The first challenge they met was facing the fear of coming to work. But they came. Sydney Catmull is a front-end manager at the Logan Lee’s who was there through the buying frenzy. She’s worked at Lee’s for almost four years and enjoys it, but she’s never experienced anything like the last few months.
“The first weekend our whole store was totally bare; the shelves were empty,” she said. “It felt apocalyptic.”
But Sydney says a new shipment would come in and they would restock. According to Sydney, it was “awesome” to see everyone at Lee’s always willing to help. She’s responsible for scheduling and saw firsthand how team members came together to keep things running.
“They’d [team members] come in early and stay late,” she said. “When a truck would come at 11 p.m., people from every department would come to unload.”
Items like rice, pasta, cleaning products, canned goods — and of course toilet paper — flew off the shelves. Jonathan says they found new vendors when necessary and kept the trucks rolling.
Prices have gone up overall, but Jonathan says they’ve “tried to find every deal possible to save people money.” They’ve been successful at restocking most items, but there is a meat shortage. However, Jonathan believes it’s not a long-term problem; the supply should return to normal in mid-June.
Keeping with the Lee’s Marketplace pledge to offer excellent service, they offer over-the- phone grocery ordering for seniors in an effort to keep them safe. Overall, Jonathan says their online grocery service has been “stupendous.” Curbside pickup has been a go-to for customers of all ages. Lee’s has implemented many new policies to keep team members and customers safe. All team members wear masks and gloves, and their temperatures are taken before every shift. They’re also asked a series of health questions before working. Fortunately, no one has been diagnosed with COVID-19 at their store, according to Sydney.
Carts are sanitized between each use, and other store areas are thoroughly cleaned. During the first weeks of the pandemic, shields were installed at check-out counters in between customers and checkers to keep everyone safe. Sydney says wearing a mask during long shifts has been a challenge for some, but 30-minute breaks and “breathing breaks” have been implemented.
New policies and hectic days and nights have been stressful, but Sydney says customers have been sincere in their appreciation for their efforts and she has learned a lot about herself and her amazing Lee’s team. She says she’s grateful to serve customers and grateful to have a stable job
during a time of uncertainty.