COVID-19, 20, 21: A Retail Worker vs. the Pandemic

Senior Mya Calderon reflects on the stress of being a retail worker during the COVID-19 pandemic. - Photo via

As an introvert, isolating myself because of COVID-19 was simple. I had a legitimate reason not to go out and began sticking with the same two excuses: “Sorry, I live with my grandparents and my grandpa has diabetes, and I don’t want to go out if it’s unnecessary.” 

However, those weren’t valid enough reasons not to work. After adopting my tuxedo cat, Colin, I was more than willing to stay home with him all day. The reality of it was, I still needed money. Someone has to pay tuition, right?

My grandpa has always told me that I needed to get out of the house more since I started college in 2018. Almost four years later as a senior, he’s still telling me the same thing — and even encouraging me to go to parties. Since high school, I felt that I never fit in anywhere — except for in my bed of course. 

College hasn’t changed that about me. I’ve learned to be more confident in talking to people, and I enjoy being able to make people laugh. But there’s nowhere like the comfort of my own bed with Colin suffocating me by laying on my chest. 

Having to work during a pandemic has sent me back a step or two.

In October, it’ll be two years since I’ve started working at Target. I was hired before the pandemic, when it still felt like a normal job. As time passed, COVID-19 turned the world upside down. People began to panic, and they attacked the doors as we opened. Many specifically sprinted towards the cleaning section. Customers were becoming entitled to having clean carts and thought that they were exempt from our our product-limit policies. 

Watching how people showed little to no empathy towards others infuriated me. I thought to myself, how could people be so selfish in a time where so many others are struggling?

There were the Target guests who would change their clothes and come in multiple times to try finding a loophole in limiting buying power — which was due to the supply shortages. There was one man who came in and bought two of the 3-pack of Clorox wipes. After he left, he changed his clothes, except his shoes, and came back to try and buy two more. 

Other shoppers had new sob stories every time they came in. Some would yell and scream at me while demanding a manager.

I was told that I should’ve “kept my mouth shut” after informing a supervisor that a guest was attempting to purchase more than 20 containers of soap and hand sanitizer combined. 

I was starting to become angry. Honestly, I still am. I worked through all this mental and verbal abuse while putting my life at risk during a global pandemic, just to barely get paid a livable wage.

In the beginning, there were plenty of people who would thank us for working, but it didn’t last long. Now, we barely get a thank you for putting groceries in someone’s car in the pouring rain. 

Occasionally, Target was forced to close their Drive Up services because of ice in the winter. With this service, customers could order goods through the Target app, select the Drive Up option and pick up their order from the comfort of their vehicle. Although the ice made it a safety hazard for employees, the public didn’t want to hear that. They’re so used to having a privilege that once it’s taken away, they don’t know how to react.

One woman took her frustrations out on me in the store. Another woman screamed derogatory terms over the phone to me, three times, after I repeatedly told her nobody was allowed to go outside. I have officially become the one who has no problem telling people “No” at work. Employees usually call me when a customer is yelling at them.

My managers are aware of what has occurred and what’s still occurring, but it seems that their focus is trying to find enough people to hire so that we’re fully staffed. We’ve seen new Target employees show up for two weeks and then disappear. Others went on a leave of absence due to the severity of COVID-19 — attempting to protect themselves and their family — and never came back. 

Every once in a while, my manager would ask me why a guest left me a negative survey, but it would be quickly brushed off once they were aware of the entire situation.

People try to tell me to leave how I feel at work or brush things off, but that just isn’t something I can do anymore. Retail workers have been treated like they’re less than human before the pandemic but, now, because of it, they’re less than dirt. I’m an actual person with feelings — sometimes feelings I can’t control — and people are going to know how I feel — and they’re going to understand that they get what they give.

Like any other person during the pandemic, I found new hobbies to distract me when I was at home. But not all of them lasted. I picked up embroidery, which I had done when I was in 4-H, years ago. I only completed one design that is currently hanging in my bathroom — which has plants and a black cat on it.

I did the cat painting trend that was on TikTok where you pour paint on a small canvas, put it in a Ziploc bag then sprinkle catnip or cat treats on top of it, allowing your cat to climb on top, walk over it and create a masterpiece. Colin is a real Picasso.

Lastly, I started reading Tarot cards — which is the only thing that I’ve stuck with. I currently have three Tarot decks — one of them picturing cats, as any cat lady should have, and I occasionally read them for my friends and family. 

Maybe my next activity should be some therapy after a long day at work.

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