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Grieving mother pleads for protection of forgotten front-line workers after daughter dies of COVID-19

Leilani Jordan loved helping the customers at her grocery job, her mother said.

Her face wrenched in grief, Zenobia Shepherd said her daughter Leilani Jordan, continued to turn up to work as a supermarket greeter -- until the day she could no longer breathe.

The 27-year-old worked during the initial weeks of the epidemic because she worried no one would be able to help her senior citizen customers walk down the aisle, or package goods, or even find the restrooms at the Giant Supermarket, said Shepherd.

Shepherd described her daughter as a member of an army of unseen workers, the people who stock supermarket aisles, or operate forklifts or work in sanitation -- those who are considered critical workers.

Shepherd, her cheeks streaked with tears, said it is workers like her daughter who are often unnoticed and unprotected.

She called her daughter Leilani, a beautiful "butterfly" whose primary tools on the job were her smile and a cheerful "good morning."

"You see a butterfly ... kinda makes your day," Shepherd told ABC News Tuesday.

She claimed Jordan’s last paycheck totaled about $20. She said she kept her job at the Giant supermarket because she loved people.

"Six years and my baby's gone!" wailed Shepherd, burying her face in her hands. "Because of her passion and her love for people. Her love for helping people and would do anything. And do it with the smile. Twenty dollars and she's in a morgue."

"It wasn't the job. It wasn't the money. It was her heart," she said. "It was helping people. Loving people. Making a difference. But at the same time she was a vulnerable class, just like the seniors. ... She never judged anyone."

But when her COVID-19 symptoms became incapacitating, she recorded a video that she left on her phone for Shepard who said she found the video after her daughter's death.

"She said, 'I love my family. I love my job. I love my friends. I love my mommy.' She said, 'But I can't go back to Giant anymore,'" said Shepherd.

In a statement, Giant confirmed that a store associate from its Campus Way South location had died from COVID-19 though the company didn't identify Jordan by name.

"We were informed of her passing on Thursday morning by her family. We can only imagine the heartache they are experiencing and have offered our support during this difficult time. We have also shared the news with our team at that location and are providing counseling resources through our Employee Assistance Program," the company said.

A disproportionately large number of African Americans, like Jordan, have died from COVID-19, according to various states' data.

Shepherd said she was angry at Giant supermarket chain and other companies for not protecting those essential workers. Shepherd claimed that her daughter was told to bring her own hand sanitizer and that she and other workers were offered no personal protective equipment, commonly known as PPE.

"You have people that are out here doing the job to help to run our country. I don't care what they do. They're there to support us. They’re there to keep the bananas on the shelf. They’re there to keep the fish and the chicken on the shelves. If you can't protect them, then you have just allowed us to be vulnerable," Shepherd said.

During her interview with ABC News, Shepherd, said that Jordan had died quickly in her arms on April 1.

"When she coded in the hospital, she coded in my arms," she said. "I'm grateful that I was able to touch her hands and touch her feet."

Shepherd said Jordan, who loved her job and her family, particularly her little sisters, would be sorely missed by everyone.

"I would trade places with my baby, any day. ...The hole that’s in my heart. It's numb," she said. "My Leilani. I know she'll be in heaven, still helping, but at least there's no disease."

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