MATTITUCK, NY — Parking lots strewn with discarded latex gloves. Frenzied shoppers hoarding paper towel rolls, toilet paper and hand sanitizer — and piling carts full of groceries meant to last until Armageddon.
Tracy Raynor, who lives in Mattituck and has worked for more than three decades at what is now the Mattituck Marketplace supermarket — which opened where the former Waldbaum’s was sited — thought she had seen it all.
But nothing, she said, compares to being on the front lines of the food supply chain during the days of the new coronavirus.
The experience, she said, “is like nothing I have experienced in my 34-year career.”
Since the first Suffolk County case of coronavirus was confirmed on the North Fork in early March, Raynor said things have calmed down a bit from those first frenzied days when hordes descended on the supermarket aisles in a frantic search for supplies.
“Being on the front lines now is not as bad as it has been in the past weeks,” she said. “One Friday— I’m not sure which one; it has been a blur the past few weeks — but it was complete craziness. I ended up on a register to get the people out. I haven’t been on the register in years. I was a little rusty, but I got it done.”
Raynor, who works in produce, has seen some sense of calm return, she said. “It’s busy early in the morning, and midafternoon is steady.”
The products “everybody is looking for,” she said, are the obvious: toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, water, and Clorox wipes.
Elected officials including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone have said there is no issue with the food supply chain; the problem is behavior, with crowds of shoppers hoarding the most in-demand items.
‘I am fearful’
When asked if she was worried about her own personal safety, Raynor was candid. “Yes, I am fearful. But I take precautions, wiping everything down, wearing gloves.” She was finally able to secure some masks from a good friend a few days ago, she said; and now, all cashiers have had sneeze guards installed at the registers.
“It’s scary. You have to be very careful —make sure you wash your hands, don’t touch your face, wipe everything down. Even when I go shopping I’m wearing gloves; I have wipes in my pocketbook,” she said.
But for all the concerns, the North Fork community is the place where Raynor has lived and worked for her entire career. She is a familiar face for many during what are uncertain times. “The customers have been kind,” she said. “Saying ‘Thank you for all you are doing,’ and ‘Please stay safe.'”
And, while there is always that person, no matter where you are in public, who invades your 6 feet of space, Raynor said she believes the good in humanity is also witnessed during the darkest of hours.
“I think that this crisis has brought out the best in people,” she said. “I try to look for the best in people, anyway.”
Asked what her message for the people would be to those who are shopping desperately, Raynor said, “Please, be patient. We’re trying to get the stuff on the shelves as fast as it comes in. And please dispose of your gloves after shopping in the garbage, where they belong. Not in the parking lot.”
Humor can lighten any situation, Raynor said.
“I have a quick funny story: A lady was shopping with these snack-sized plastic bags, the kind that are half the size of a sandwich bag — and they just had her fingertips covered on the carriage. I looked at her, she looked at me, and I started to laugh — and then, she started to laugh. She said, ‘Isn’t this crazy?’ I gave her a pair of gloves and she went on her way shopping. A little laughter always helps.”
Working in a supermarket during the days of coronavirus is an experience Raynor said she’ll never forget.
“I’ve worked through snowstorms, hurricanes, and even two tornadoes, one in Laurel and one in New Suffolk,” she said. “And nothing compares to this.”
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