Being “essential” offers new perspective

Madeline Bruce, Features Editor

A couple of days ago, it hit me that I’m deemed “essential.”

It seems a little weird to be considered essential for working in food service, when it is an industry that is so often looked down upon and belittled. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been mistreated by customers while serving them food, and while that certainly hasn’t stopped completely, the global pandemic seemed to make the general public a little kinder toward food service workers, grocery store workers and delivery drivers.

I’ve seen this kindness manifested in more frequent tips, smiles (through face masks), kind words and simple thanks from customers for working during these trying times.

Specifically, I got a phone call one Sunday morning from a man who had placed an online order with us the night before.

As soon as I picked up the phone, he said, “Madeline, first of all, I’d just like to thank you for working right now. God bless you and your family. I know this can be difficult, but we are so grateful to you for your service.”

I found myself tearing up. I felt like I was barely doing anything, barely putting myself in danger. Millions of other people around the world are putting themselves on the front lines of this pandemic, and here is this man thanking me, a manager at a Panera Bread, for my service.

Whenever I’m thanked for working right now, it makes me stop and think for a moment. I couldn’t imagine not working during all of this. My job is what I’ve leaned on during this time. It’s where I’ve found stability. At the beginning of the pandemic, the restaurant I work at was in danger of closing temporarily because it wasn’t making enough money to stay open and pay its employees. I hoped and prayed desperately that we wouldn’t close down because I couldn’t fathom not being able to work on top of not being able to go to school or do any of the things that make me happiest. Working during this pandemic didn’t seem hard for me, and it still doesn’t. It is something I want to do, because I feel like I’m doing something to make things a little better. I know that coming through our drive-thru is what many of our customers have to look forward to, and it provides a sense of normalcy for them.

I think I’m privileged for that. A lot of people tell me that they can’t imagine working in these conditions, but I honestly feel lucky to be able to go to work almost every day. I feel completely safe where I work, which I know is not something that a lot of people who are physically going to work can say right now. Our corporate office provides us with face masks, all of the employees make sure to wash our hands after every customer and there are no more than eight or nine employees working at once. If anything, I feel like I am often taking the concern away from the health care workers and workers who are more exposed to the virus than I am.

For me, working provides a sense of normalcy, as well. I work with some of my best friends, whom I wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. I also don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t able to see all of my co-workers. They’ve helped me get through the uncertainty of the moment. While we have times when we get tired of each other, we can often be found cracking jokes between orders and bonding over Uno games and food parties in our closed-off dining room. I thought we were all pretty close before this, but we’ve gotten even closer within the past month and a half, which is something good to come out of an otherwise terrible situation.

Being deemed “essential” has made clear what’s really important in life, both in the world and in my personal life. I think it’s obvious who keeps the world running in the midst of a crisis, and I hope that everyone is a little bit kinder to health care, food service, grocery store and any other “essential” workers when this is all said and done. I speak from experience when I say a little patience goes a long way, and it is especially appreciated during times like these.


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