COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way, from essential workers to furloughed employees, daily life is different

Every single person on the Central Coast has felt the impacts of the novel coronavirus and resulting stay-at-home orders attempting to prevent its spread. No one is immune, not just to COVID-19, but to the disruption of day-to-day routines. The pandemic has completely changed lives, at least temporarily, but it’s affected everyone just a little bit differently. We decided to check in with a variety of residents who make up the Central Coast community to try and understand what their lives are like now. We’ve compiled the profiles into our first true cover story since this all started.

—Camillia Lanham

COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way, from essential workers to furloughed employees, daily life is different
VIRTUAL WORSHIP : Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ Pastor Jane Quandt has adapted to leading digital church services and social justice efforts during the stay-at-home order.

Jane Quandt

Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ Pastor

As the pastor of a small church just outside of Lompoc city limits, Jane Quandt quickly had to learn the ins and outs of hosting Zoom meetings as the COVID-19 pandemic escalated.

“We didn’t sign up for this,” Quandt said. “They don’t teach you Zoom 101 in seminary.” 

And it wasn’t just a learning curve for her. The 35 to 40 people who attend Valley of the Flowers United Church of Christ—many of whom are older—also had to adjust. Quandt sent out a newsletter about the change in late March and spent time calling congregation members to walk them through using the online platform shortly after learning how to use it herself. 

There have been hiccups. During Quandt’s Easter sermon, a participant accidentally shared their computer screen with the rest of the congregation—but the services are getting better. Quandt said the church recently had its first service that felt meaningful since the virtual gatherings began.

Despite the improvements, Quandt said digital services will never feel the same as in-person gatherings. Without music and other elements, services are only half as long as they are usually. Similarly, the large spread the church usually rolls out for its post-service lunch has been replaced by a digital coffee hour where people can talk.

“We have to unmute people one by one as people raise their hands and somebody else responds,” Quandt said. “In some ways, we’re listening to each other more carefully, so that’s been kind of a positive.”

Quandt is hoping this is just one of many positives that come out of this pandemic. She’s heavily involved with social justice issues, and this virus, she said, has highlighted many societal problems. As one example, she points to data that public health departments have released that show people of color are dying from COVID-19 at a disproportionate rate.

Another issue is playing out just a few miles away from the church. The federal penitentiary in Lompoc is the location of one of the worst COVID-19 prison outbreaks in the country and had resulted in the deaths of two inmates as of May 7. Quandt said she’s concerned with how this situation is being handled, but it’s hard to advocate for changes when isolated at home. 

“I’m trying to figure out how you organize in a digital time,” Quandt said. “People who are into organizing are usually speaking face to face.”

Quandt is also adjusting to keeping her distance from family and friends. When she moved to Lompoc from Riverside in 2018, she did so with a plan that would allow her to visit her son, his wife, and their child for one week every month. But with the stay-at-home order in place, that’s not happening anymore.

Instead, she talks to her family through video message platforms every few days. And Quandt said for her granddaughter, it’s like she’s right there with her.

“My face is on the screen and she decides to carry me around while playing hide and seek with her dad,” Quandt said.

Although her family is in Riverside, Quandt isn’t totally isolated in Lompoc. She has a pet dog that she takes on walks to get out of the house. Or she gets in the car and drives to Surf Beach or elsewhere to admire the Central Coast landscape.

Getting outside helps the days pass, but like most people, Quandt said she’s eager for the existing circumstances to end. Yet she doesn’t want life to go back to normal. Rather, she’s hoping we move forward to a new place as a society and focus on improving the injustices and disparities that always existed, which have been highlighted over the last two months.

“Now what I’m interested in talking about is when this is over, how do we want things to be different?” Quandt said. “What new things do we want to be born out of this?”

—Zac Ezzone

click to enlarge COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way, from essential workers to furloughed employees, daily life is different
ADVOCATING FOR WORKERS : As an organizer with Santa Barbara County’s plumbing and pipefitting union, Nick Harvey recruits new workers and contractors to join the union.

Nick Harvey

UA Local 114 organizer/recruiter

As an organizer for UA Local 114, Santa Barbara County’s plumber and pipefitter union—or as members call it, “the local”—Nick Harvey knows how to make an impression. 

“Being an organizer is about your ability to speak with people,” Harvey said of his work. “My job is to recruit people and companies to join the union.”

While Harvey tried a variety of jobs before finding his current passion, it was perhaps his first position out of high school that best exemplifies his magnetic and convincing personality.

“Unintentionally, I found a job as a motivational speaker,” said Harvey, who’s originally from Washington state. “That’s what brought me to California.”

After falling in love with a “Goleta girl,” Harvey found himself in Santa Barbara County working as as a handyman, allowing him to rediscover some of the same satisfaction that he felt as a motivational speaker.

“Again, I got to help people,” Harvey said.

This first job in the trade industry eventually led Harvey to his passion: His experience with plumbing as a handyman led him to take the local union’s plumbing test when he and his family fell on hard times in 2009 during the recession. At first, Harvey didn’t hear from the union for 10 months.

“It got so bad that we ended up on welfare,” Harvey said of the months before he heard back from the union. “It was really the worst time in our lives.”

But then in April 2010, Harvey got a call from the union. Within a week, he was working as a pipefitter apprentice. Flash forward six years later, and he landed his current job as the union’s organizer and recruiter.  

“The thing with Nick is, he’s a really honest guy,” Michael Lopez, the union’s business manager, told the Sun. “He doesn’t want to BS anybody, and he doesn’t like being BSed by anybody.”

But Harvey said that COVID-19 is now presenting challenges to the position he’s thrived in for nearly four years. His position was partially furloughed, so he’s only getting about half of his usual hours and pay. He’s also working from home, and the union’s apprentice school is no longer able to teach students in person.

Harvey’s job as an organizer and recruiter for the union naturally required a lot of in-person interaction before the pandemic, so Harvey said it’s been an adjustment. 

Because many workers are in need of work right now, Harvey said he’s made a point of talking with contractors both in and outside of the union. He said the current situation exemplifies the benefits of being unionized, as people like him are there to help connect workers with jobs.  

“Our goal right now is to see people working, even if it’s a nonunion contractor,” he said. “If there’s a contractor that gets a big job, with the flood of people being out of work, you don’t know who you’re going to get. But I know that the workers that we have do a good job for these contractors.”

Harvey said that a negative side to working in construction is it can force workers to have to choose between a paycheck and staying home when they’re sick.

“This is why I fight so hard for workers,” Harvey said. “There are a lot of low-income workers who won’t stay home if they’re sick because, in construction, you don’t get paid if you don’t go to work. … If you’re sick, you need to stay at home.” 

Harvey emphasized that if anyone knows personal protection, it’s plumbers and pipefitters: A key to working in the field is understanding that invisible things can hurt you. This makes construction workers particularly good at navigating being an essential worker during a pandemic.

“You’re in an environment where you can’t see it, you can’t touch it, but it can make you sick if you’re not careful,” he said. “That’s where I look at this and say, ‘We absolutely need to be responsible.’” 

In his personal life, Harvey said he has an acquaintance who came down with COVID-19 and was hospitalized for weeks but is now recovering. Harvey remembers seeing the individual just days before they got ill, and said he was grateful in retrospect that he had practiced good social distancing and forwent shaking hands. 

Harvey said he and his family continue to stay quarantined at home. 

“We’re doing what we can do to hopefully keep people safe,” he said. 

—Malea Martin

click to enlarge COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way, from essential workers to furloughed employees, daily life is different
DIFFERENT WORLD : As a Battles Elementary School kindergarten teacher, Jaimie Kelly has spent the last month adjusting to distance learning.

Jaimie Kelly

Battles Elementary School kindergarten teacher

Teachers in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District didn’t know they would have such little time to prepare for distance learning. When the shelter-in-place order hit and schools sent everyone home to wait out the pandemic, the district, teachers, students, and parents were just trying to figure it out.

“It was just super shocking,” Battles Elementary School kindergarten teacher Jaimie Kelly said. “Distance learning? OK, what’s that? What’s this going to look like. We hadn’t been trained to do that, other than giving some of the students Chromebooks.” 

Volunteering, Kelly helped distribute the supplies that students needed to learn from home—notebooks, Chromebooks, book books, and other school necessities; prepared QR codes that students in kindergarten through second grade could use to log in to the online learning platform; and researched different educational tools and spread that to her colleagues. 

“It’s just a learning curve. Because some teachers are savvy with technology and some teachers are not,” she said. “Just like anything, humans adapt, and we get used to it.” 

Kelly and her fellow kindergarten teachers across the district sorted through online platforms such as Smarty Ants (language arts), Imagine Math (math), Clever (the district’s online education sign-in), Google Classroom (which kindergarten teachers don’t normally use), Zoom (for virtual meetings), Seesaw (which prompts students for responses), and Flipgrid (students can post videos related to what they’re learning). 

“I think the hardest thing has just been trying to educate the parents on how to access everything,” she said. “Like anything else, you have to learn how to access it before you can use it.” 

With a daughter in seventh grade at Orcutt Junior High, Kelly feels lucky to not have to sit at the computer all day with her kid like some of her colleagues have to with their younger children. Her daughter self-manages time and assignments and knows how to handle Zoom and other online platforms. Plus, she’s motivated to get her work done. 

“She tries hard in school and she cares about her grades, so I’m lucky with that. If I had to micromanage here and do this, it would be impossible,” she said. “But I know so many parents who just have to sit there and help their child.” 

Kindergarteners need a parent next to them to interact online, Kelly said. They can’t read all of the slides and turn in assignments by themselves, but she’s starting to post videos that explain it all in more detail. 

“It just comes down to their situation and their parents being able to help them,” she said. “It’s a lot to ask of parents. This is not the ideal, but I guess it’s better than not doing anything. We’ve got to do something to continue their education.” 

Although 23 students are in Kelly’s class, about 19 consistently access Clever to get on the learning programs, and 17 have signed in to Google Classroom. Approximately half of her students are submitting and finishing assignments. But she’s trying to stay in touch with the parents—or at least reach out regularly, even if they don’t connect. 

As far as the four who haven’t made it online yet, Kelly and her instructional aide, who’s fluent in Spanish, have tried to encourage those families. 

“I don’t know their situations. Maybe they’re at a babysitter and their parent comes home late,” she said, adding that it’s just hard to ensure students are completing the work they need to to move ahead because they’re not in the classroom. “I think that’s really frustrating for most teachers.” 

 The majority of her class are English language learners, and 17 students have at least one family member who speaks English. The district is attempting to bridge the language gap with Zoom meetings for parents who don’t speak English, and Kelly said her instructional aide translates slides, directions, and assignments into Spanish. 

 Kelly said she’s been working longer hours during the pandemic, learning new tools, prepping for the week ahead, contacting parents, and trying to ensure that as many of her students are engaged as possible. She doesn’t mind though. 

 As a teacher of 19 years, 18 of which have been at Battles, she’s always taught the new generation of students: kindergarteners and first graders. They often have high educational demands, but she likes to put that time in. She said she enjoys teaching them.

“When they walk in they’re just joyful. They want to be there, they’re sponges, they just grow so much,” Kelly said. “We want what’s best for kids, and we want them to be successful when they go into that next grade.” 

—Camillia Lanham


hospitality industry 

When the local shelter-at-home order went into effect in March, Isabel was in shock.

“I went through downtown San Luis Obispo and it was empty. All the businesses were closed, and I thought, ‘Oh my lord it looks like a scene from a zombie movie,” she said with a chuckle. 

The eerie environment unsettled Isabel for a lot of reasons. 

Due to the impacts of the coronavirus, she was laid off from her job at a local hotel. But unlike the many other people who can file for unemployment, Isabel doesn’t qualify for the federal program because of her status. 

As a single mother with undocumented status, Isabel, who spoke to the Sun in Spanish, asked not to use her full name to preserve her privacy.

She said she was very worried about providing enough food to feed her two teenagers, a 17-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter—both citizens of the United States. At first, Isabel didn’t talk to her children about her worries, but she said they could sense something was wrong because they overheard her phone calls seeking out assistance, if any, that she could receive during this time.

“They told me, ‘Mom, we could eat less.’ It’s a sad thing, but I would tell them, ‘No, we will figure it out.’ But I had to hold in my emotions, which is hard because I do cry a lot,” she said.

Isabel said her kids were worried about not getting enough toilet paper or paper towels as they would head to the grocery store to find empty shelves, but that was the least of her worries. 

Between tears, Isabel said this has been very difficult for her especially, because she’s been dealing with the effects of the pandemic alone. Three years ago, Isabel separated from her abusive husband and moved into a smaller apartment that she could afford. 

She asked the father for some kind of help while she figured out what she could do to provide for her children during this time. Initially, he told her no, but after some time, Isabel said, he did help her with a little bit of money for rent—although she’s not sure what changed his mind.

Isabel kept looking for help, kept making phone calls. She called her former place of employment and let them know that she was ready to get back to work if they needed someone or were hiring again.

Through the Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants Project, the California Department of Social Services is slated to provide one-time $500 grants to undocumented persons who are 19 and older, ineligible for federal COVID-19 related assistance, and have experienced hardship because of the virus. Isabel said she’s heard of the program but hasn’t seen a dime of that assistance. 

Amid her worries, she said she’s thankful for the time she’s recently had with her children. Isabel said she’s been teaching her kids how to cook dinner or they’ll play card games in the evening. During the day, she keeps herself busy and does so quietly as both her children continue attending school through the computer. 

Things are starting to look up for Isabel; she said during the second week of May her former employer offered her work at reduced hours—seven hours a week. It’s not a lot, but Isabel is thankful for some kind of relief as she continues to look for assistance. 

—Karen Garcia

click to enlarge COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way, from essential workers to furloughed employees, daily life is different
LEADING THE FIGHT SLO : County Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein shares the latest on COVID-19 at a press briefing on May 6.

Penny Borenstein 

SLO County Public Health Officer

In late December 2019, Dr. Penny Borenstein read about the first few reported cases of an unknown communicable disease in Wuhan, China. She knew right then and there that the novel pathogen now known as COVID-19 had the potential to spread quickly and change lives across the globe, including her own. But she didn’t know to what extent her fears would come true. 

By early January, Borenstein and her staff at the SLO County Public Health Department had already started preparing for the worst, dusting off old emergency response plans and meeting regularly to discuss developing COVID-19 research. There weren’t any known cases in the U.S. then, but nearly 30 years in public health taught Borenstein to think quickly and proactively. 

The crisis escalated, and on March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. 

Borenstein went from being a regular health officer to the incident commander of SLO County’s emergency operations team, which consists of various agencies banded together in the fight against coronavirus. “Penny Borenstein” is now a household name in SLO County, and she’s still getting used to it. 

“People actually come up to me and thank me,” Borenstein told the Sun. “I get ‘thank you’ notes from people, handwritten the old-fashioned way, emails. And it has been surreal, because I feel like I am just doing my job. I’m doing the job I was trained for.”

For months now Borenstein has been working roughly 12 hours a day, seven days a week, meeting daily with a never-ending line of public officials, agencies, and emergency operations staffers—all in need of accurate information and advice. She uses ever-changing data and research to make decisions that are, in some cases, literally life or death. Then at 3:30 p.m. on most weekdays, she translates it all into something the public can understand.

It’s a hectic schedule, but Borenstein’s ability to thrive amid chaos is renowned among her colleagues. When the health department isn’t working through a crisis, it runs more than 40 programs and employs hundreds. Borenstein oversees them all and knows what’s going on with each program every day, the employees running them, and budgets for each. 

“Her mind is always alert and everything about her is energy,” said Jennifer Shay, a public information officer for the department who’s worked with Borenstein for more than a decade. “She thinks fast. She works fast. She moves fast. She even drives fast.”

And that’s how Borenstein tackles problems, Shay said—quickly and effectively, combining her vast medical knowledge with common sense and a passion for helping people. She truly listens, Shay said, because she truly cares. 

“Behind all the science, behind all the decisions and everything,” Shay told the Sun, “there’s still a person who is very empathetic about the suffering clinically and the stress on the community.”

That’s partly because Borenstein can relate. She has two teenagers who are out of school and learning from home, one who has special needs and requires one-on-one attention. Luckily, Borenstein said, her sister offered to look after the kids during the pandemic. 

Still, it’s been tough to spend so much time away from her family, and she’s made other sacrifices too. As the face of the county Health Department, Borenstein takes the brunt of the criticism in the local media and from residents online, some who feel their constitutional rights are being trampled. As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, Borenstein said she finds comparisons of the shelter-at-home order to Nazi Germany “extremely troubling.” 

But to Borenstein, it’s all just part of the job she’s wanted to do ever since her time at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. 

“I know that people’s patience is fraying,” Borenstein said. “And so of late I have felt the need to ask, to whatever extent people are willing to listen, to not allow ourselves to turn on each other if we have different perspectives on what the best approaches are going forward.”

Borenstein has been here before, from the 2001 anthrax attacks to the 2009 swine flu pandemic. Although she’s never seen anything quite like the situation we’re in, she’s confident we’ll make it through.

“We will get past this, and we will have happy, light times again,” Borenstein said. “And, however far out that may be, we need to keep our eyes on that so that we don’t sink into a sense of futility.”

—Kasey Bubnash

click to enlarge COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way, from essential workers to furloughed employees, daily life is different
DUTY CALLS : (From left to right) Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center registered nurses Glenda Archambeault, Michelle Brimer, and Olivia Lovejoy volunteered at hospitals in Detriot that were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center 

Step Down Unit Clinical Supervisor Glenda Archambeault 

Stroke & Sepsis Coordinator Michelle Brimer

Operating Room Clinical Supervisor Olivia Lovejoy 

  Glenda Archambeault, Michelle Brimer, and Olivia Lovejoy are all registered nurses at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, residents of SLO County, and mothers. 

In early April, Tenet Healthcare put out a call to find employees willing to volunteer their time at sister hospitals in Detriot, and these women didn’t think twice. 

“I was completely sincere in my desire to volunteer, but I was also incredibly shocked by the urgency, when I was asked to go on April 9 and was told I would be leaving the next day,” Archambeault told the Sun via email. 

Before the coronavirus began impacting SLO County, all three women said their lives were pretty normal. Their day-to-day routines involved working, driving their daughters to school and after-school activities—Archambeault has one daughter, Brimer has three, and Lovejoy has three, as well—and doing their part in chores and errands.

But as the positive COVID-19 test results began to pop up around the United States, Lovejoy said Sierra Vista began preparing for potential coronavirus-infected patients experiencing severe symptoms.

While the virus is something the health care field has never tackled before, Brimer said she felt confident in the facility’s ability to deal with the potential impacts.

“Our hospitals were the first in the county to set up our tents outside of our emergency departments and have a plan. I am very proud of how quickly we mobilized and put our plans in motion,” she said.

The rapid response put the entire staff at ease. However, Lovejoy said, in the beginning, she was anxious because nurses are “people of action.” 

“It was difficult to sit and wait for it to strike us,” she said. 

COVID-19 has impacted hospitals in other states more acutely than SLO County, and all three were looking for a way to help. 

Archambeault said she was nervous going in because she didn’t know what the hospital conditions would be like or what to expect. At the time, they only knew that the volume of patients outnumbered the staffing situation—the Detroit nursing staff was overwhelmed, but they were ready.

Archambeault was assigned to a COVID-19 ICU, Brimer worked as an emergency room nurse for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients, and Lovejoy is working in the medical-surgical and step down units. 

Archambeault volunteered for three weeks, Brimer stayed for a week and a half as emergency room volume dramatically decreased while she was there, and Lovejoy has been in her units for 25 days. When Lovejoy spoke with the Sun, she was slated to return to the Central Coast May 8. 

When asked how they felt at the end of their shifts, the nurses all had the same reply: They were physically exhausted and emotionally tired.

Brimer said it was difficult to see people suffering alone, without their family support. 

“Many times that was something we took on, just trying to reassure them that they would be taken care of,” Brimer said. “Several patients would cry when they found out they were positive for the virus for fear that meant they were going to die.”

At the end of her shifts, Archambeault said a group of nurses would ride back to the hotel together, sharing stories and venting along the way. Once she reached her room, she would shower, make a quick call home, and go to bed. 

Their Sierra Vista colleagues checked in on them daily, sending messages of support and encouragement, and supplying them with personal protective equipment. 

None of the nurses regret their experience; if anything, they felt empowered by their profession and would gladly volunteer again. The trip also confirmed the reality of the virus and that it should be taken seriously. 

“If everyone could see, first-hand, how many people are affected and how they are affected, maybe there would be a lot more kindness instead of anger,” Archambeault said.

She said she’s finding it very difficult to read the negative comments on social media regarding the legitimacy of the virus and its impacts. 

Lovejoy said politics aside, people should be taking the virus very seriously, because she doesn’t believe it will be going away anytime soon. 

—Karen Garcia

click to enlarge COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way, from essential workers to furloughed employees, daily life is different
COVID BLUES : Izzy Pedego, 17, is part of the class of 2020 at Arroyo Grande High School—which won’t have a graduation because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Izzy Pedego

Arroyo Grande High School class of 2020

  Izzy Pedego doesn’t need an alarm to wake up nowadays. She tried one in an attempt to have some sort of schedule during these offbeat times but couldn’t make it work.

“Not having a particular rhythm that’s enforced by a school, I developed my own rhythm but it’s way out of whack from what it used to be,” Pedego said.

The 17-year-old Arroyo Grande High School student gets up around 10 a.m. after watching films until the late hours of the night. It’s a far cry from normal, but the new reality is similar to that of her fellow class of 2020 students.

While seniors normally prepare for their end-of-year activities during this home stretch, all that stopped with the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting directives from state officials. 

After a temporary closure started on March 16, Lucia Mar Unified School District—which Arroyo Grande High School is part of—announced on April 22 that schools would remain closed for the rest of the school year.

Overall, Pedego’s had her share of good and bad days in the midst of staying home. 

“I’m not flourishing, and I’m not dying,” she said. “Generally speaking, I know there are people having much harder times than I am, and I know people that are having way more fun than I am, so I’m in between.”

It’s an abrupt ending to four years enshrined in pop culture that Pedego said she never got the chance to finish, while acknowledging her sentiment “sounds super cheesy and weird.” 

“In American culture, at least, so many movies are made about ‘the high school experience’ and senior year and all of the milestones that come at the end of your senior year,” Pedego said. “And it just feels really strange not getting to experience any of them.”

No more high school theater shows to act in or audition for. No more looking for a prom dress, even though Pedego said she hates dances. No more counting down the days until walking across the graduation stage.

Classwork, though, still flowed online, as Pedego is enrolled in two Advanced Placement classes whose tests were May 11 and May 13. Assignments given at the beginning of the week had an end-of-week deadline for full credit, she said.

But Pedego said she forgot to account for her mental health, which has diminished her motivation to finish schoolwork, even for simple assignments.

Classes like the student newspaper were challenging to deal with. Pedego, the paper’s editor in chief, said with a chuckle that “even just getting people on the same Zoom call is insane and hard to do.” 

With school closed, Pedego now spends most of her time with her parents—who work from home as public defenders—and her 14-year-old sister, who spends most of her time on calls related to extracurricular activities. 

“It’s just a very crowded house,” Pedego said. “Even though there’s only four people, they’re four very busy people, so it feels very crowded.” 

 To escape the hectic home, Pedego drives out and parks her car just to read books or play Nintendo Switch video games in peace. But she and her father have found another thing to bond over: sci-fi literature. 

 Frank Herbert’s novel Dune was recommended by a friend, and Pedego said her father has read the book multiple times and also vouched for it.

 Pedego and her father—while already close to each other—don’t overlap much on interests, she said, but Dune is a recurring conversation topic. She’ll point out small details, and her father will dive deeper into the book’s minutiae.

 “It’s made us a bit closer, I think, even though our conversations about it are pretty brief,” Pedego said. “It’s really nice to feel that sense of ‘I know where I get this trait from now!’”

 Through it all, though, Pedego knows this pandemic and its current impact will pass eventually. She said the greater class of 2020, both in high school and college, recognizes that.

“There’s a happy medium between ‘we can feel sad’ and not be so self-pitying that we can’t see the bigger picture,” Pedego said. “Not having a graduation is going to be for the greater good to keep more people safe. And as sad as it makes me, I recognize that it’s for the best.”

—Francisco Martinez

click to enlarge COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way, from essential workers to furloughed employees, daily life is different
GRATEFUL : Adam Harding, 35, is thankful to have a job at the SLO County Food Bank so he can provide for his family of four.

click to enlarge COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way, from essential workers to furloughed employees, daily life is different
ESSENTIAL : Shadoe Venezuela, 27, is a warehouse worker and driver for the SLO County Food Bank, which has seen the demand for its inventory skyrocket during COVID-19.

Adam Harding &
Shadoe Venezuela

SLO Food Bank warehouse workers/drivers

When Adam Harding gets home after working a warehouse shift at the San Luis Obispo County Food Bank, he has his routine down pat.

He pulls up to his SLO residence in a car that only he is allowed to get into. His wife is there to hold open the front door, so he doesn’t have to touch the doorknob. He stores away his work boots in a place where his two young children—3 1/2-years- and 3-months-old—can’t reach. He sanitizes what he carried with him that day, like his phone and keys, and then makes a beeline to the shower.

“Then,” the 35-year-old told the Sun, “I can give my daughter a hug.”

As a SLO Food Bank employee, Harding finds himself in the thick of the COVID-19 crisis every day. Skyrocketing food insecurity has placed tremendous pressure on the Food Bank and its resources, and warehouse workers like Harding are the ones responsible for safely handling the historic volumes of food—processing incoming orders, packing bags of groceries, and making deliveries to residents.

For these workers, that means long days at the Food Bank warehouse on Kendall Road and on the highway driving distribution trucks up and down SLO County. Their days run between eight and 12 hours each, and can involve up to six hours of driving.

“On any given day, I could start off with a drop-and-go at Paulding Middle School in Arroyo Grande around 9 or 10 a.m., come back to the warehouse, and load up for a distribution up in Paso and Creston,” explained Shadoe Venezuela, 27, another SLO Food Bank warehouse worker and driver. “I could be done with that one at 5 or 6 p.m., drive back to SLO, unpack my truck, clean up the warehouse, and be done for the day.”

Venezuela has worked at the Food Bank for a couple of years but said he’s never seen the demand for food rise to the level that it’s been during COVID-19. In the month of April alone, the nonprofit distributed more than a half-million pounds of groceries across the county, nearly three times its normal volume.

“It happened immediately,” Venezuela said. “As soon as we knew all this was going to be taking place, we knew resources were going to become very limited and the demand for our resources was going to skyrocket.”

 A native of Hawaii, Venezuela moved to California at age 15 and has lived in SLO County for eight years. Right now, he lives with two roommates who are over age 65, so he said that warehouse safety and sanitation became his top priorities when COVID-19 struck. The last thing he wanted to do was spread the virus to his housemates or anyone else in the community.

“We have to do what we do because we’re going to be essential workers,” Venezuela explained, “so we need to make sure we’re not breathing and touching what we’re going to be handling.”

Warehouse work is neither glamorous nor high-paying—Venezuela works a second job to make ends meet. But in spite of the job’s risks and challenges, both workers feel happy to be in a position to provide a critical service to the community right now.

“Before this [job], I was getting 16 hours of work a week,” said Harding, who joined the Food Bank in March just before the pandemic. “When I found out I could provide for my family and the community, I just felt grateful.”

Harding said that it’s been gratifying to see the impact of the Food Bank’s work.

“You make the orders, and you get know these people from different walks of life,” Harding said. “You see how thankful they are.”

Venezuela agreed that connecting directly with the community is the most fulfilling part of the job—especially right now.

“We wouldn’t be at our jobs if we didn’t love them,” he said. “Everyone there does it out of the kindness of their heart. We know what we’re doing is helping others, and that’s what we enjoy to do.” 

—Peter Johnson


Send comments through the editor at [email protected].