Heroes on the front line: Bonita Simmons, Andre Paynter, Danny Ray
While most of us are safe at home during the Covid-19 pandemic, essential workers put their lives at risk to keep Bermuda going. The Royal Gazette salutes these selfless men and women in hospitals, supermarkets, delivery vans, gas stations and other key services with our new series
Well-stocked supermarket shelves are more important than ever now the island is locked down in the battle against Covid-19.
Wholesalers Butterfield&Vallis have showcased some of the staff who are working flat out to maintain the flow of vital supplies to supermarkets and stores.
Bonita Simmons, a merchandiser and delivery driver, admitted the pressure of going store to store had taken its toll.
Ms Simmons said she had two more drop-offs to do as she unloaded her stock on Monday morning at MarketPlace’s Shopping Centre on Victoria Street in Hamilton.
She said: “Your body is so tired from being stiff — you hurt from being like this all day.”
Ms Simmons is one of the team who delivers goods from the company’s warehouses at Orange Valley in Devonshire and Woodlands Road in Pembroke — and is aware of the risks of entry to busy supermarkets.
She wears a mask, dons fresh gloves and douses her hands in sanitiser at every store she visits and maintains social-distancing.
Ms Simmons said the panic buying sparked by the start of coronavirus restrictions had been the toughest time of the crisis.
She explained: “When it first started, we got bombarded. People were squeezing past, reaching over you — it got scary.”
Ms Simmons said the new system of shopping days allocated in three categories based on surnames, up from two, had made a big difference.
She added that appreciation from customers went a long way to help ease on-the-job pressure.
She said: “There’s some people who tell you you’re doing a good job.
But she added: “There’s still some who are not nice, leaning on you.”
Andre Paynter carries out one of the company’s less visible tasks in the service area behind the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital — keeping the hospital’s laundry and kitchen appliances in top-notch condition.
Mr Paynter is a qualified technician for Ecolab, which provides water and hygiene equipment for the hospital, and Hobart, a food service equipment maker.
He said: “It’s very important right now to be able to assist them. We do this at the hotels and restaurants as well — making sure that equipment is in good order.”
Mr Paynter, who has worked for Butterfield&Vallis for almost 20 years, added that the maintenance schedule meant each client was visited every two weeks.
He said the hospital was one of “the major sites”, but that he also carried out work at seniors’ homes, which use the same equipment.
Mr Paynter felt safe in his protective gear.
He said: “It’s fine — the areas I work in are not as active as far as people walking around. I’m in service areas and basement areas.”
Mr Paynter added; “People are very appreciative. Their equipment is running properly and this is a critical time for what we provide in health and safety.”
“This is my first experience of a pandemic on this scale. This is the biggest situation in my experience.”
Mr Paynter said his family was coronavirus-free so far. He added: “We’re blessed — we’re all clear. I hope it stays that way.”
Danny Ray, a consumer products delivery driver, said seniors’ homes were included on his routes from the Orange Valley warehouse.
He added: “Those are the only places we’re not allowed in. Everything gets dropped at the door. Everything else, I’m taking product into warehouses. It’s a normal day.”
Mr Ray said the rush on stores during the first few weeks of the crisis had been “crazy”.
Stores he used to visit once a week now got stock top-ups “two or three times a week”.
Mr Ray said: “With this crisis, a lot of people are really going overboard. It’s good to have stock, but now we have a lot of people home every day and I guess everybody snacks.”
He added that some members of the public had started to “get a little bit agitated — but morale is good out there”.
Mr Ray said the need to wear a mask and gloves all day meant a changed routine when he got home.
He showers as soon as he got home and puts all his work clothes in the washing machine to help protect his family.
Mr Ray said: “It’s one day at a time. Now, you’re basically used to what’s going on, but you’re a little worn out.”
He added: “As the weeks have gone by, it’s got better. I’m not run down like I was the first few weeks.”
Spencer Butterfield, the chief executive of Butterfield&Vallis, which employs 212 people, said the pandemic had “changed our lives and all of us are wondering what it will mean for the future”.
He told the public: “Rest assured that Butterfield&Vallis is focused on securing quality products from brands you know and trust.
“Our team has experienced increased pressure in meeting consumer demands — however, the B&V family remains fully committed to servicing the community.”
Mr Butterfield said the “harsh realities” of the pandemic had reduced the scale of the company’s food service division because of shutdowns in the hospitality sector.
But added: “Nevertheless, we look ahead to rebounding solidly to support Bermuda’s hotels, restaurants and tourism industry.”
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