Grocery store employee working during COVID-19 crisis: 'I'm going to say my prayers'

Jeff Reid said he never imagined himself on the front lines.

May 9, 2020, 6:00 AM

When his alarm goes off at 3:30 a.m., 54-year-old Jeff Reid knows it's time to begin his day and prepare for an eight-hour shift on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. As a grocery store worker, Reid never imagined he'd find himself in this position.

"You go from being just the everyday hardworking guy -- get up in the morning, take a shower, say my prayers and put on a happy face and go to work -- whereas now, you know, basically I'm putting my life on the line every day," he told ABC News.

Reid works in the meat department at a Giant Food grocery store in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. He's also the shop steward at the store for the UFCW Local 400 union.

Every day before his 5 a.m. shift, Reid prepares his morning essentials -- 1,000 milligrams of the powdered vitamin supplement Emergen-C and his morning prayers. Reid was raised in a religious household and finds his faith to be a source of comfort, especially during these times.

"I'm going to say my prayers before I go out there, and that's been my rock," he said. "Some people like yoga, some people like athletics, you know, I pray."

PHOTO: Jeff Reid prepares his morning essentials.
Jeff Reid prepares his morning essentials.
Jeff Reid

Reid began at a grocery store as a part-time worker in the seafood department, before relocating to another store where he became a seafood manager. Two years ago, he was transferred to the meat department, where he said the smell is comparatively better and where he enjoys learning about different cuts of meat.

As the shop steward for the local union, a position Reid's held for about 10 years, he assists employees who may have questions or concerns about their pay or treatment.

"I'm all about people being treated fair," Reid said. "Fair and impartial."

Jeff Reid works in the meat department at a Giant Food grocery store in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Jeff Reid works in the meat department at a Giant Food grocery store in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Jeff Reid

His personal story is featured in this week's episode of the ABC News podcast "The Essentials: Inside the Curve."


The last photo Reid has on his phone from before his world changed because of the pandemic is a picture of him giving an impassioned speech at a union rally during contract negotiations.

Jeff Reid says his "last photo" was this one showing him speaking at a rally.
Jeff Reid says his "last photo" was this one showing him speaking at a rally.
Courtesy UFCW Local 400

As the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted some supply chains vital to grocery stores, Reid has found himself working tirelessly to keep products on the shelves as customers stock up. Reid said that, as a grocery store worker, he's worked through "snow scares" that usually last a couple days -- people rushing out to stockpile essentials in anticipation of a blizzard. Now, that rush has become the daily norm.

"Just the volume of business, and just trying to get used to seeing the shelves empty ... that's really taken some getting used to," he said.

Reid has also found it difficult to be away from his family. His 30-year-old daughter and two grandchildren live nearby in Baltimore, but he's apprehensive about seeing them due to the fact that he comes into contact with so many people on a daily basis.

"Right now, I haven't really been interacting with them ... but, you know, that's my family," Reid said. "That's who I live for."

Despite the store limiting occupancy and taking social distancing measures, Reid said he and his coworkers still have a sense of fear. One of Reid's coworkers has been with the company for 40 years and has high blood pressure and a heart condition, but hasn't retired because he relies on company health insurance. That coworker is now concerned about whether he's jeopardizing his health by coming to work.

"I had a coworker ask me today, 'OK are we essential or are we sacrificial?'" Reid said.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Giant Food is giving employees a temporary 10% hazard pay increase. UFCW Local 400 is fighting for further protections for grocery workers, like giving them first responder status so they have better access to PPE and testing.

Despite the challenges at work, Reid enjoys how the grocery store allows him to be part of the local community, where he knows many customers. He likes to feel appreciated by them for his hard work.

"That's what keeps me going and it keeps me motivated -- the fact that I'm able to put a smile on somebody's face ... during all this pandemonium and chaos," Reid said. "Let me be the rainbow in your day."

ABC News' Keturah Gray contributed to this report

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