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ON THE SCENE: USA Luge sending big thank you to front-line workers

USA Luge Marketing manager Dmitry Feld has placed thank-you signs around the village of Lake Placid. (Provided photo — Sandy Caligiore)

Are you willing to donate to a fund that will result in a thank you card and a check, modest in size, that will be given to the employees of our two leading grocery stores, gas stations, post office, UPS Store and elsewhere?

If so, USA Luge Marketing Manager Dmitry Feld would love to hear from you. His goal is to raise $10,000; ideally, he’d like to raise twice that much.

When we think of those on the front lines of keeping our communities safe, firefighters, EMTs, police and forest rangers come to mind. So, too, do doctors and nurses, most notably those who work in hospital emergency departments.

COVID-19 has added another team of people critical to our health and well-being: those who work in grocery and hardware stores, gas stations, pharmacies and the post office. Can you imagine if those businesses had to close along with those that already have? We’d all be in trouble exponentially greater than we already are.

The staff of these businesses are not highly paid. In these circumstances, when the threat to our wellbeing is a new coronavirus that’s highly infectious and easily transmittable with no vaccine available to protect ourselves, they provide a vital service by making available quality food, needed household supplies, medicines, and our ability to ship and receive mail and packages.

At Price Chopper, from left, are Ashton Winch, Tyler Lautenschuetz, Antonia Asa Thomas, William Vaillancourt, Emily Schwartz and John Trummer (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

A hundred years ago, people were far more self-sufficient, as a third of the population lived on farms, grew their own food and sold it locally. Today about 1.3% of the population lives on farms, and we import 53% of our fruits and vegetables. As a consequence, if we were cut off from the rich array of produce at Hannaford and Price Chopper, life would take a far more drastic turn for the worse.

Early on, when the coronavirus was making its presence known in such urban centers as Seattle, San Francisco and New York and public health officials were first urging wide-spread social distancing and wearing masks, Feld was filling his car at the Sunoco gas station and noting that the attendants were not wearing masks. On reflection, he realized that protective gear had not yet been provided to the checkout and other staff at Hannaford, Price Chopper and elsewhere.

“A lot of attention has gone to those who have died and those who are working to save lives like the doctors and nurses at hospitals,” said Feld. “But I started thinking about the people who work at supermarkets and other businesses like Stewart’s and Robo (Sunoco) where I get my gas and realized these people are working with few protections. Yet, they performed their jobs the same way they’ve always had with a smile to make you feel welcome.”

Feld ruminated about the risks these workers were taking even as masks became available and plastic partitions were installed at the supermarkets. He decided to pitch his colleagues at USA Luge on the idea of leading an effort to raise money to provide thank-you cards and a bit of cash for these workers.

The cards will start with the grocery stores and fan out from there as more money is raised. Jim Leahy, CEO of USA Luge, agreed with the idea, and the staff made the initial contributions.

Noreen McCarthy of Keene shops at Hannaford. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“We are fortunate that we have stakeholders in Lake Placid that have stood behind us and helped us build our new indoor training facility,” said Leahy. “Our goal is to help Dmitry meet and exceed his goal. The amount of money that will be given out is not a whole lot, but it’s something we can do to say you matter, and we’re grateful. It’s a way of saying, ‘Hey, thanks.’ We are humbled to do it.”

Feld noted that people from around the region come into the supermarkets and hardware stores all day long. The staff have no idea if they are healthy or not but cater to everyone equally and doing so, put their health at risk.

“These employees are not paid supercalifragilisticexpialidocious amounts of money,” said Feld. “They just come and do the work which such as stock the shelves, slice fish and cold cuts to order, clean the floors, and manage the staff. They are putting their lives on the line to serve us. We need to show that we care and to thank them for their hard work.”

The managers of Hannaford and Price Chopper are thrilled to learn that their employees will be honored. Hannaford’s manager, Cheryl White, said it’s a very welcome offer. She said the staff have always worked hard to keep their customers safe, but they are making an extra effort during the COVID-19 crisis. She also noted that many are now the sole breadwinners in their families who, of course, are concerned about the well-being of their loved ones.

“Our associates are constantly cleaning all the freezer, refrigerator and dairy handles — anything that customers or staff touch,” said White. “Being described as essential workers has made a difference. The staff is pleased by the recognition and that many customers have become more vocal about expressing their appreciation. They recognize if we weren’t here, what would happen to the community? Everyone plays an important role in a functioning society.”

Here at Hannaford are manager Cheryl White, left, and Evie Connor, associate relations/evening operations manager. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Emily Schwartz, manager of Price Chopper, equally praised USA Luge for organizing a community effort.

“It makes people proud to be acknowledged as essential employees,” said Schwartz. “This experience has taught us all to be more understanding and has brought us closer together because we’re all going through the same challenge. We’ve learned how much we all care about each other. Not just at the store, but as a community too. Now, we in the store and with the community at large, need to work more as a team.”

White and Schwartz said customers could help by respecting social distances, following the directional lines in the aisles, being patient with the extra time it takes to check out, understanding if their preferred brand isn’t available there’s most likely a substitute, and by being courteous to the staff and each other, that and keeping their sense of humor. In short, be kind.

“The morale of the staff is good,” said Evie Connor, associate relations/evening operations manager at Hannaford. “The biggest challenge is dealing with the ever-changing rules coming down from New York state. Plastic bags were banned, now allowed, but for how long is an example. These changes can be frustrating for the customers. Overall, people are very appreciative that we’re here. They need to eat and have necessities to live on, and we’re providing that for them.”

Reflecting customers in both stores, Noreen McCarthy of Keene said while shopping at Hannaford, “I am very appreciative that the store is open, and its staff is here. The store is spotless. They make an effort to keep a proper distance from the customers. They are very consciences.”

“It’s a huge gesture,” said White. “Some of our associates’ partners are out of work. No matter what the size the contribution ends up being, it will help, it will make a difference.”

Those wishing to contribute should make out a check to USA Luge (COVID thank you in the memo) and mail it to Dmitry Feld, USA Luge, 57 Church St, Lake Placid, NY 12946.