Essential Workers: Gas station employees

Photos by Kayla Renie/The Herald
Diana Kleeman of Jasper, manager of Circle A Food Mart and Sunoco gas station on Newton Street, poses for a photo at the gas station in Jasper on Tuesday. As an essential worker, Kleeman's biggest fear is becoming infected with COVID-19 while working and bringing the virus home to her family. "Wearing a mask, and everyone else wearing one too, helps me feel protected," Kleeman said.

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

Diana Kleeman helps fuel her community.

As much of the world shuts down during the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her team of essential workers at the Circle A Food Mart and Sunoco gas station on Newton Street in Jasper are doing their best to keep their hub safe.

Business is slow. But those who still need to travel rely on them. The world needs them to keep wheels turning, and they’re doing their best to protect everyone who stops inside.

“I don’t want to get the coronavirus,” Kleeman said, “and I don’t want it to get to anybody else from here. So yes, [we’re] very big on the cleaning thing right now.”

A manager who has worked at local Circle A marts since 2013, her job responsibilities include filling out paperwork, ordering stock, running the cash register and leading a small operation of workers. The introduction of the novel coronavirus added another duty to that list.

Employees are required to complete a ritualistic amount of near-constant surface sanitation both inside and outside the building. Door handles, fountain drink machine buttons, counters, the coffee station and more are attacked over, and over, and over again throughout the 24-hour establishment’s operations. Kleeman is in charge of making sure that happens.

Customer rushes and store busyness can make it challenging sometimes, but every hour, workers try to clean anything that is touched routinely.

Devin Bohnert, an assistant manager at the Circle A, stressed that the employees are taking the threat’s potential seriously. Every day, their goal is to kill any possibility of the deadly virus spreading.

“We are doing everything we can, as soon and as fast as we can,” he said of keeping the station clean.

Sales have decreased “quite a bit” at the station recently, Kleeman explained, due to a dramatic drop in customers. The quiet is noticeable. On Wednesday, April 15, for example, the Circle A welcomed only 567 patrons — half of what the station would see before the pandemic began.

The majority of those who still come in are practicing social distancing measures. A sign on the station’s door tells of how everyone inside is required to cover their face in some way — whether with a mask they bring in, a paper towel they are offered by the staff or the shirts they are wearing — and Kleeman has noticed a shift in willingness to take such precautions.

Initially, some customers were resistant.

“Since I put that sign there, [it] seems like the people, they’re not as rude as they first were,” she explained. “So, people, I think they’re getting used to it, and they’re willing to do their part to keep the spread of it down.”

She and other employees protect themselves with face masks of their own. They also wash their hands regularly, use hand sanitizer, and have implemented a sneeze guard barrier that separates them from guests.

Kleeman is young and in good health, so she wasn’t worried about the virus affecting her in the beginning. Now, however, as the number of confirmed cases rise, she admitted that so, too, has her level of worry.

“More so about taking it home to my family,” she said. “That’s what scares me more. But it’s not enough to make me not want to come in, though. I’m pretty resilient, I guess, on that.”

She is humble. But she is also proud to be an essential worker, to help others during challenging times and to do her job in a safe way. Bohnert, too, takes pride in the role he plays in helping to get people to where they need to go.

“We are essential to the community,” he said of those working at the Circle A. “We’ve gotta supply fuel and other products to people all day long. So, being essential is important.”

He is looking at the situation positively and encouraged readers to do the same.

“Soon this will all be over and we can all get back to our normal lives,” he said.

But in the meantime, he, as well as gas station employees across the globe, are staying their course so you can keep yours.




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