Rajdeep Brar says customers at the Walmart where he works have become more calm and that the appreciation shown for grocery store employees online has kept people returning to work. Ben Lypka photo/Submitted

Abbotsford grocery store employees thankful for appreciation as panic-buying subsides

As information replace rumours, shoppers have become more calm in grocery stores, worker says

The increased appreciation shown towards grocery store employees in recent weeks has inspired many to keep coming to work – even when doing so involves going against their mother’s advice – a worker at an Abbotsford Walmart says.

Workers were overwhelmed when panicked shoppers suddenly began flooding into stores in early March, Rajdeep Brar says.

“All the people showed up all of a sudden and started buying all the stuff in bulk,” said Brar, who is 20 years old and works in the store’s produce section while taking a full slate of business courses at the University of the Fraser Valley.

The sudden surge, he said, seemed fueled by rumours that the city and/or its stores would be closing for an extended period.

“It was definitely very overwhelming … All of them were panicking,” he said.

That first crazy day left Brar mentally exhausted.

“I had such a bad headache and couldn’t sleep all night,” he said.

“Seeing all the panic among the customers, they were buying stuff they didn’t really need. It was very overwhelming.”

He said it was also distressing to see customers flooding stores because of their fears of a shutdown, but not practising social distancing to reduce the risk of actually contracting COVID-19.

Fortunately, the demeanor and social distancing of customers has improved considerably since.

“People were losing their patience, but now people have become a bit more calm,” Brar said.

RELATED: Walkers, grocery store customers courteous with physical distancing in B.C.

The public has also started to recognize the importance of grocery store workers.

“Every day when I go to work, I see customers appreciate associates who are working,” Brar said. “They appreciate they’re here and working for them.”

Brar said he has also taken heart from online support for workers coming both from average people and internet celebrities.

He said that appreciation is a major factor in keeping workers returning to stores.

“That’s what keeps associates at Walmart motivated to work there. Otherwise our moms are like, ‘Just stay at home, don’t work,’ but when we hear appreciation from the customers, we’re motivated.”

Brar was speaking personally: his own mom had told him that he should stop working.

“She was a bit scared because of all the news she had been hearing.”

Brar said workers and managers have been closely abiding by social-distancing orders both while on the store floor and in break rooms. There is also regular sanitizing work being done.

An Abbotsford man who manages a Langley meat and seafood department said he had never seen anything comparable in his 25 years in the industry.

Bryan Dafoe said workers and stores weren’t expecting the surge in demand, but have stepped up to try to deal with an unprecedented situation.

“I haven’t had a day off in three weeks,” he wrote in an email. “I love my job but I must say the past few weeks has been a struggle.”

Dafoe, who works for Loblaws, said the company had increased wages over the next month and taken measures to try to ensure people are following social-distancing directives.

“For the most part, customers have been great and understanding, more so now that things are calming down,” he wrote.

“I find people get testy with distance now and yell at each other for space.”

While he has also dealt with disgruntled customers, he said it has also been gratifying to be personally thanked for his work.

“This situation has brought out the worst and the best in people.”

RELATED: Amid COVID-19 panic, B.C. psychologist urges shoppers to not clear out grocery stores

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