Uncharted Territory: Working A Part-Time Job During A Global Pandemic

Every day, I wake up at 5:30 in the morning, put on a grimy uniform, and get ready to face another day of work.

Ever since I came home (and stayed home) thanks to Penn State’s switch to remote learning, I started picking up shifts at my local grocery store — the same one I’ve worked at since I was 16.

I’m incredibly grateful to have a job at a time when unemployment is nearing an all-time high. But I’ve never experienced a pandemic before, let alone risked my health and safety earn some money. Although things are different now for nearly everyone in the country, I can say for certain my job is not the same it was years ago.

No one is forcing me to work, and I can quit at any time, but I simply need the money. I pay rent at Penn State (won’t be seeing that apartment anytime soon) and lost my job in State College due to the coronavirus pandemic. On top of all of that, I’m working to pay off my own student loans for my oh-so-expensive out-of-state tuition. Working means earning money, and that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

I take my safety and my family’s safety very seriously amid our nation’s public health crisis. I keep hand sanitizer locked and loaded in my pocket, wash my hands after touching anything, clean my clothes every day, and haven’t hugged my parents since I left for the spring semester. Although I am taking precautions, not everything is being done to protect me and my coworkers.

My store has added a few nifty safety features such as plexiglass in front of the registers for cashiers, lines of tape on the floors to mark distances of 6 feet, and hand sanitizer dispensers in every corner. I work stocking produce and grocery and, unfortunately, don’t receive many of the same perks as frontline employees.

Six feet, folks!

I received an email from the president of my store claiming employees would receive face shields to wear while on the job. Despite his reassurance, I haven’t seen a single shield in my store. No one is enforcing social distancing practices on customers or employees, forcing me to bust out my customer service voice and politely tell folks to back up while I work. I’ve even witnessed customers fighting over the last bag of potatoes, but I can’t do anything to stop it.

On top of this, plenty of essential items around the store haven’t been seen on shelves for weeks. That means little (or no) toilet paper, baby products, meats, or other assorted groceries. My coworkers and I try to taking items off the truck before they can put them on the floor to bring home to our families.

After a long day at work, I usually come home and log onto Zoom University™, where I spend my time in unfamiliar online-school territory. I honestly never expected to learn on Zoom considering I don’t do that well in online classes. I also never imagined I’d be balancing a crazy job with the crazier stresses of remote learning, yet here I am

The stress of my job and remote learning has taken a significant toll on my mental health and overall wellbeing. Students face enough stress as it is, and adding online classes and the pressures of a nine-to-five job create a whole new level of madness.

Working a student during this pandemic has forever changed my perspective. I don’t take my job or education for granted now. I see how professors can struggle with the transition because I did too. They’re undoubtedly doing everything possible to make this switch as smooth as possible, but these have been some of the hardest weeks I’ve faced in quite some time.

Between not being able to see my friends, dealing with unruly customers, and losing connection during many, many Zoom session, I’m simply trying my best to be successful — the same as many other students balancing their classes and their careers.

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About the Author

Hope Damato

Hope is a 2022 graduate who majored in broadcast journalism and was one of Onward State's social media editors. She resides in her parents house as she is still on the job hunt. Someone please hire her. Feel free to follow her on twitter @hopemarinaa to send her funny tweets or email her at [email protected] to yell.

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