WESTMINSTER, Colo. (AP) — Brittany Olander grabbed her surgical mask before walking out of her Federal Heights apartment.
She cleared wet, heavy snow from her car, determined not to let the weather cloud her sunny mood that has proven to be so important lately in her job as cashier at King Soopers in nearby Westminster.
“Keeping happy vibes keeps everyone else happy,” the 31-year-old said.
Olander is one of dozens of Colorado residents that journalists from news organizations across the state profiled on April 16 as part of a collaborative project to chronicle a day in the life of their uncertainty, hope, fear and joy during this extraordinary time. The project, COVID Diaries Colorado, can be found in its entirety at http://colabnews.co/.
The storm kept away customers from Olander’s store in the Denver suburb of Westminster. The King Soopers was one of the few businesses still open and one of those few places where people can still see their neighbors since the coronavirus forced everyone inside.
But it hasn’t been the same at the store where she has worked for over a decade. Olander, following social distancing rules, can’t hug her regular customers as she used to. She worries about the older customers she hasn’t seen in weeks, the vulnerable ones who couldn’t risk venturing outside even to do the shopping.
With business light, Olander and her co-workers cleaned cash registers and other surfaces that are frequently touched but she was upset to find a pair of used disposable gloves left on an electric cart, rather than thrown in the trash. One regular, a woman in her 70s who used to come in nearly every day, stopped by looking for masks. Olander told her where to go, but warned they were probably out of stock.
Olander ate lunch in her car at 3:30 p.m. before finishing her shift. Soon after, a woman asked if she could just stand inside the store to warm up. She tried to soothe a courtesy clerk who was confronted by a customer whose chips were placed at the bottom of a shopping bag. She fetched a replacement for a customer whose electric cart had died.
Shortly before her shift ended at 7 p.m. the woman who wanted to warm up bought Advil PM and immediately took it all. Olander and other workers told a manager, who called the paramedics. It was a rough ending for a worker who has been deemed essential in this crisis, along with the other clerks and cashiers across the state, some of whom are making around the minimum wage. Olander’s union was able to win $2 an hour extra in hazard pay for its workers in Kroger-owned stores, taking her pay to $20.81 an hour.
In her car, Olander pulled her mask’s ear straps out from under her knit cap.
“This is my favorite part because I can just take the mask off and breathe,” she said.
This story is powered by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative. The Associated Press joined this collaboration with more than 20 other newsrooms across Colorado to better serve the public.