The Burns Lake Save-on Foods has stepped up as a local community grocery hero since the COVID-19 crisis unfolded. Dealing with some very unexpected hurdles, the store and staff have managed to find balance between meeting demands, and keeping the store and customers safe.
“Overall, things have been going very well. I liken it to be kind of like our summer or our holiday season… but never ending,” said Michael Vatcher, store manager at Save-on Foods in Burns Lake.
Vatcher recalls the toilet paper hoarding which hit hard around the second week of March. He had no explanation for it, but felt it may have been that slippery slope of panic purchasing—one person buying too many of something out of greed or fear, then another seeing it, becoming scared they’ll miss out if they don’t, and following suit.
The pattern continued and for weeks, with toilet paper barely making it to shelves before being whisked away by a shopper.
And then it happened with meat, cleaners and sanitizers, dairy, eggs and bakery goods—in that order.
The store put a limit on these sought after items so there would be enough to go around. Vatcher and his team wanted to ensure that all people and families could get what they needed—rather that most of some item going home with one person.
And luckily, most customers were respectful of the new rule, he said.
“It can be a challenge for some people, like out of town shoppers who only want to shop once a week so they want five of something,” said Vatcher.
“Usually when I explain it, they’re pretty good. We have had a couple people that required a little bit of extra finesse, and only a couple that really turned angry about it,” he said.
Things have since gotten better, and the limits are still higher than they were in previous weeks, though the store feels it’s not quite time to lift them altogether. But now it’s more of a precautionary measure, to prevent the panic buying from cleaning them out again.
He and his team are also trying to have some fun, while still taking this whole thing pretty seriously, he said.
The store even added five new staff, and brought in some past workers, for additional help. The constant cleaning and sanitizing has become a very big job now, said Vatcher, and he’s now referring to himself as a sanitation cop, because it’s so important in his daily work.
During the morning huddles, the team shares updates on the latest COVD-19 news, and any policy changes within the store. And Vatcher finds humour in introducing his staff to a variety of new hit songs—past and present—that they can sing for 20 seconds in order to reach the minimum recommended hand-washing time.
The store has hours for seniors and people who have high risk health issues from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. And another new feature is that the store is now taking orders by phone and email, to help residents of the local community keep their social distance in place but still get food, he said.
Vatcher has heard some great feedback about how helpful this has been to a lot of people, including someone whose mother is immune-compromised and undergoing chemotherapy.
“That part really reinvigorates us as staff. People have dropped off goodies too, even. Nothing recharges my battery like someone telling me how we’ve affected them. That’s probably the best part of my day, honestly,” said Vatcher.