A couple of months ago, a woman from Powell sat in her car in the Three Rivers Market parking lot and wept. Between sobs, she recorded a video on Facebook Live telling the world what employees of the market had just done to her.
What they did was tell her to put on a mask, specifically, a mask that met the store’s requirements, which are posted on a large sign that has been on the sidewalk next to the front door since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
She said that she can’t wear a standard mask because she is pregnant, and that she had worn a “minimally-compliant” mask “with holes in it” into the store until she was confronted by a security guard who handed her a more substantial mask to wear as she went through the checkout line. There’s no link to share of this episode because she removed the video a few days after she posted it, but she left it public long enough for her supporters to cyber bomb Three Rivers Market with negative reviews and scathing comments on multiple social media platforms.
A month before the incident at the market she was one of the “anti-mandate” speakers at a raucous Knox County Commission meeting and said she lives in Powell, as do a number of those who have been attending public meetings to voice their complaints.
On Dec. 26, another Powell mother reached out from her hospital room via a WATE TV interview. Diana Willett, who was being treated for COVID-19, wanted to talk about her 25-year-old son Christopher, who died of Covid on Dec. 19. His obituary went viral and was getting national attention to illustrate the plight of grocery store employees.
Christopher worked behind a supermarket deli counter near his home until he was diagnosed with Covid in early December. His mother said he always wore a mask at work, was super careful about hygiene and frequently complained about customers who refused to do the same. He told her that even though management had posted signs all over the store saying masks were mandatory, employees were not allowed to ask customers to wear them.
Christopher was on the autism spectrum, and had blossomed on the job. He took great pride in his work and made friends who are missing him dearly. Here’s a comment a customer left on his obituary:
“I am broken hearted to read this obituary for this young man. Christopher always went out of his way to be kind and helpful to me at the store. He always had a smile on his face and a happy comment no matter what was going on around him. He loved living. I looked for the aisle where he was bagging groceries because he always seemed so proud when he got to help me get my groceries to the car. He never complained whether it was hot, cold, rainy. And he always said something kind to me after he loaded my groceries into my car. He would say be careful and I will see you the next time! Well, Christopher, I will miss you and your happy countenance, but I will see you next time.”
Grocery store employees don’t make a lot of money, but they are considered essential workers, both in law and in fact. Three Rivers Market, which is a customer-owned cooperative, has done an exceptional job of protecting its work force. Others should follow their example.
Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.