What It’s Like Now: Taylor O’Connor, cashier at the Mission Hy-Vee

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re shifting our Shawnee Mission Faces to focus on folks in roles that have been profoundly effected by the virus and response: What life is like now with social distancing, a stay-at-home mandate and the need for essential workers.

As a front-end cashier at the Hy-Vee grocery store in Mission, Taylor O’Connor has seen the COVID-19 pandemic unfold over the past few weeks — the confusion, the concern, the panic, the fear and, finally, some semblance of calm. She credits her coworkers and the management team for pressing on each day by providing the best service possible, all while keeping a safe social distance from their customers. A 1982 SM North graduate and animal lover, O’Connor earned her bachelor’s degree in recreation therapy from Pittsburgh State University. She previously worked for Wayside Waifs in Grandview, Missouri as well as Unity Temple. In her down time, she walks dogs and spends time with friends, watching movies and having dinner together (although social distancing has certainly put a damper on her social life). She lives in Mission with her cat, Finn.

The first week or two, it was panic shopping. People were afraid. You could just feel it.

We were slammed: Crowds, lines down the aisles, mass exodus to the grocery store, not really knowing who to believe and what to believe, and lots of confusion about do we need to stock up for a week? Fear does that to people, going to the worst-case scenario, if it’s armageddon and I need enough toilet paper for a year. It was just a very frantic atmosphere for weeks, it seemed like.

I think it’s forced us to focus on the basics in our jobs and as people, to obviously practice basic sanitation, cleaning every chance we get, but even more than that, it’s always about the people, so just to focus on thanking people for coming in, asking how they’re doing, reassuring people it’s going to be OK.

For me — and I think other cashiers too — it’s just really important to stay calm, take care of the customer like we always do at Hy-Vee and are trained to do. Just really put the focus back on the basic stuff, support each other as a staff, not take things personally.

And really, we’ve been so appreciative of people being just kind to us, just saying thank you for being here, not getting bent out of shape if something happens like a price rings up wrong or something like that. Just appreciating us as people.

I think the last three days, since the lockdown or whatever started, it’s been much more mellow, manageable, people have relaxed a little bit. People are more friendly, less in fear mode. We’re more relaxed. I mean, you can see there aren’t crowds down the aisles, lines down the aisles. It’s just a completely different feel. Many people are staying home and have got to be stocked up, we hope, so that then we can get stocked up.

What made me want to work at Hy-Vee was the focus on the customer. Hy-Vee said we can train for any position, but we can’t train for people skills, so we want you to have people skills, and to just put those into action. Looking people in the eye, smiling, saying thank you, just being kind, asking them how they’re doing, is what I’ve been focusing on.

Just stop and take a breath, you know? Because it’s so easy to let fear win, and I think that’s the challenge, is just keep hope, stick to the facts, practice good basic whatever you want to call it, cleanliness and stuff, and just keep showing up for life here. I refuse to let fear win.

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