Grocery Worker Has Never Seen Shelves Being Emptied Like This Michelle Lee, a Safeway cashier, wishes customers would be more patient about shortages. "They can't understand why they keep coming back and we don't have" items such as toilet paper, she says.
NPR logo Grocery Worker Has Never Seen Shelves Being Emptied Like This

Grocery Worker Has Never Seen Shelves Being Emptied Like This

Michelle Lee, who has worked for Safeway for 32 years, wishes customers would be more patient about shortages. "They can't understand why they keep coming back and we don't have" items such as toilet paper, she says. Robert Lee hide caption

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Robert Lee

Michelle Lee, who has worked for Safeway for 32 years, wishes customers would be more patient about shortages. "They can't understand why they keep coming back and we don't have" items such as toilet paper, she says.

Robert Lee

Michelle Lee, a cashier at a Safeway in Alexandria, Va., has kept working through the pandemic. In fact, she has been working harder than ever.

"My back is hurting a little bit, but I'm doing all right," she told NPR in March. "It's been really, really busy. The lines are really long. Customers are buying $200, $300, $400 worth of groceries. And it's constant. It's nonstop."

In her 32 years with Safeway, Lee said, she has never seen shelves being emptied the way they have been during this crisis.

She said she wished more customers would be patient when they encountered shortages. Most are understanding, she said, but not everyone.

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"A couple of the customers were upset, because we haven't had toilet paper and paper towels in over a week, and they can't understand why they keep coming back and we don't have it," she said.

Still, Lee has felt the strain of extra work. "I feel like, sometimes, I can't do enough," she said. "But I've realized that I can only take care of one customer at a time."

And not working isn't an option.

"People have to eat," she said. "And so we have to be there."

Lee said she's proud that workers such as herself have been designated essential during the coronavirus crisis.

"This isn't something they're going to forget right away," she said. "All of the people — the police officers, the nurses, the doctors, the grocery workers — I think they will remember for a long time that we was there when they needed us all the most."

Read more stories in Faces Of The Coronavirus Recession.