What I overcame to work during the pandemic
‘I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get back out there.’
By Ralph Churchill, as told to Katie Johnston
Ralph Churchill, 25, is employed as a porter at Price Rite in Lynn in partnership with Triangle, a Malden nonprofit that helps people with developmental disabilities find and maintain employment.
I work Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. I get shopping carts. I stock shelves. I clean the shelves. I help clean the floors as well. During the day I also do assembly work at Triangle for Cape Cod Polish, putting polishing cloths in packets. I’m used to working. When I’m not working, it doesn’t feel the same. My dad owns a cleaning company, and I started working for him at the age of 9 or 10.
When the pandemic started, I felt very, very nervous and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get back out there and work at Price Rite. I was worried that I was going to catch the virus. So I asked to stop for a while. I had to get comfortable wearing a mask by practicing wearing it in the house — a surgical mask, and a washable mask as well. At Triangle, we worked on having me wearing a mask during training sessions on Zoom. I didn’t like wearing a mask. It was hard to breathe and it was pretty awkward. I also had to get used to wearing gloves and changing them between every task.
When I went back to work in September, I was nervous and uncomfortable. Customers would come up to me without masks on. I would have to tell them to pull their mask up over their mouth and nose. I didn’t like doing it. I didn’t know if they had the virus or not. Social distancing is challenging — staying 6 feet apart from every single person who comes into the building, and outside when I get the shopping carts. I have to stay far, far away from them. It felt like I was going to catch the virus if they had it.
Now I feel much better. I’ve gotten used to wearing the mask and gloves and staying 6 feet away from people. I feel safe. That is an accomplishment for me. It’s going to stick with me for a while — wearing the mask and being socially distant. It will be hard not to do those things. That’s the only thing that’s keeping me safe from catching the virus. I don’t know if the pandemic is going to make a comeback.
I see myself working at Price Rite for a while. I like helping customers. They come up to me asking where they can find something, and I show them. It makes me feel useful. There was this one time when a customer came up to me — they needed help getting something up high. The customer actually told me, “Thanks for helping. I appreciate all the things you do.” There are times when I have thought of being essential during the pandemic. But I don’t necessarily feel more important. It’s still the same, just a lot more stressful.