Customers scurried through the aisles of Festival Foods in Janesville on Saturday afternoon, some of them donning protective masks and gloves.
They scanned the shelves for toilet paper, bottled water, hand sanitizer and other grocery items that have been a bit harder to stock up on due to the spread of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, one Festival Foods employee stocked shelves. Another wiped down the handles on grocery carts in the entryway. A third stood on a ladder as he cleaned a display.
Grocery stores are being hit hard as one of the few essential businesses still open for in-person business due to the stay-in-place order issued by Gov. Tony Evers.
Employees at Festival Foods say it can be scary at times to continue working, but they also know they play a large role in helping the community overcome the worldwide health scare.
“For me, no matter what’s going on, I just think it’s important to be there and bring a level of normalcy in a time that’s just not normal,” said Jamie Kent-Schneider, deli department manager at the store.
“We have to do what we can to make people feel like life is as close to normal as it can be right now.”
The store continues to see a higher number of guests than it’s accustomed to, said Senior Director of Community Involvement Brian Stenzel.
The store’s online shopping service, Click N Go, allows guests to submit an online shopping list, which can be picked up at the store. Stenzel said the number of customers utilizing the service has more than doubled with the spread of COVID-19.
Instacart is another option being utilized more often by customers. The company offers home delivery of groceries.
The demand for basic commodity items such as toilet paper remains high, but Stenzel said the store isn’t seeing a food shortage at this time.
As people continue to need groceries and a place to get them, Assistant Store Director Tom Hayd said Festival’s employees are doing the best they can.
“Each day brings a new challenge. Associates have been great and very understanding with the ever-changing needs of the store and our guests. Associates are working in other departments that they have never worked in before and doing all new tasks that aren’t a part of their everyday routine,” Hayd said. “It’s gratifying to see us all come together and step in where we’re needed most and learn together along the way.”
The store has several hand washing/hand sanitizer stations set up around the store for shoppers and employees, and additional cleaning continues as the store remains operational.
The store has directed employees to wash hands frequently and stay home if they are feeling ill. A team of employees is in charge of disinfecting all areas of the store numerous times throughout each day with an emphasis on “high-touch” areas, Stenzel said.
Festival Foods CEO and President Mark Skogen said the company’s 33 stores across the state are looking for more employees during this time and is offering temporary part-time work for those looking for extra hours during “these unprecedented times.”
Employees are being paid an appreciation bonus for continuing to work.
Closing the store overnight instead of operating 24 hours a day has allowed for extensive cleaning after each day, also, Stenzel said.
Store Director Jeff Jensen said while it might seem daunting to continue working amid the spread of COVID-19, Festival Foods will continue to be open to the community.
“We are grateful that we can be here for our guests during this time. We wouldn’t want it to be any other way. We came here to support the Janesville community when we opened, and that is what we will continue to do,” Jensen said.
There is a sign of hope within the store, Kent-Schneider said.
The deli cases, typically filled to the brim with fresh meats, cheeses and other products, had been closed for the past week. Since store employees are learning more about the virus and believe it’s safe to serve the food with protective equipment, the cases have re-opened.
“That’s all we can do is be there for people and help those that might be a little panicked and reassure them that we’re going to continue to be here and continue to have these things for them,” Kent-Schneider said.
She did that earlier this month with a family that was trying to plan for a funeral while following Evers’ rule limiting the size of gatherings.
Kent-Schneider helped the family pick out food to best fit the situation. She said it was a small gesture, but for people who continue to work during this time, small gestures can make a big difference.
“No matter what is going on in the world, people’s lives continue to go on and that includes funerals and other life events. We’re all impacted in so many ways in all of this (COVID-19). … It is one of those moments in time that we get an opportunity to make a difference, even if it is small,” she said.