Canadian grocery store owner pens heartfelt letter defending 'exhausted' and 'scared' employees

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The owner of a FreshCo in Windsor, Ont has written a heartfelt letter encouraging shoppers to practice kindness during COVID-19. (Pictured: A Brampton, Ont. FreshCo. PHOTO BY FRED LUM/ THE GLOBE AND MAIL DIGITAL IMAGE)

The owner of a Canadian grocery store has gone viral after urging shoppers to show compassion to employees during COVID-19.

Jay Williamson, a FreshCo franchise owner in Windsor, Ont. has unknowingly gone viral after his heartfelt message to store patrons was shared to a Toronto neighbourhood Facebook group. The one-page memo contains a bullet-point list of things shoppers should keep in mind when grocery shopping during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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“I manage a grocery store,” the letter begins. “Here’s some things everyone should know [sic]. I don’t have toilet paper, I don’t have sanitizer, I run out of milk, eggs and meat daily.”

With 25 years of experience under his belt, Williams ensures customers that the store is not hoarding product “in a hidden corner of our back room,” and he is not incapable of ordering product - there simply isn’t any to be shipped to the store.

Williams writes that his team has been “abused daily” by “ignorant” customers, and deserve respect for providing an essential service to the public.

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“My team puts themselves in harm’s way everyday so you can buy groceries,” he continues. “My team is exhausted. My team is scared of getting sick. My team is human and do not possess an antivirus...they are in just as much danger as you are (arguably more), but they show up to work everyday just so you can buy groceries.”

As frontline workers, Williamson writes that his employees are “under-appreciated” and like healthcare workers, come into contact with more people who could potentially be infected than the average shopper.

The results of panic-buying at a Toronto area FreshCo due to COVID-19. (Wendy Gillis/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

“The next time you are in a grocery store, please pause and think about what you are saying and how you are treating the people you encounter,” he writes. “They are the reason you are able to buy toilet paper, sanitizer, milk, eggs and meat.”

The letter isn’t the first public plea for compassion Williamson has written. On March 16, he shared several photos of what his store looks like in the morning, with rows of empty shelves. The photos emphasized the reality of panic-buying that has left many without products they need, and how the anxiety of the pandemic has brought out the worst in some of his customers.

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“My staff and I are on the front lines doing our best to serve you. We are trying our best, along with suppliers and warehouses to get stock to the shelves,” he wrote. “Cashiers are not deserving of the abuse they have been receiving. Lines are long due to bulk buying, scheduling done weeks in advance, call ins due to a variety of issues and in particular, not wanting to put up with some difficult people.”

Williamson has been doing his part to help support his local community during COVID-19. On April 3, he presented a $1,000 donation to help the Downtown Windsor Mission and Street Help Windsor.

“This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint,” Williamson wrote to Facebook. “We will get through this and I want everyone there at the end. And yes, It will end!”

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