SAN DIEGO — Grocery store workers in San Diego are asking for patience from their customers as they work to stock shelves and keep up with demand.

“When we’re loading stuff they’re over our shoulders, they’re just [reaching over us]. There’s no six feet from us anywhere,” said Tamara Long, who has worked at a store in Rancho Bernardo for 34 years.

All employees who spoke with News 8 praised their respective company’s handling of the crisis. Most said they had the necessary tools and all felt supported by their employer.

“We’ve been experiencing people who are coughing. We provide sanitizers, we wear gloves and are constantly washing our hands to keep the public safe, but it's been hard. We hope it goes back to normal soon,” said Patty Figueroa, who has worked at her store for 32 years.

Many employees have spent decades with their respective companies. Some compared the experience to the aftermath of an earthquake or wildfire, but the pandemic has yet to come to an end and employees risk getting sick and infecting their families.

“I have a sense of community. When you’re in the grocery business you see these people every day. You see them grow up. It’s a personal thing and we do it well,” said Mike DiLeo, whose wife also works as a cashier. “People take us for granted and we do it every day, and now we do it even more so. That’s what drives us. They’re our neighbors, our friends, and family that come in shopping. So for us, it’s a personal and professional thing.”

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Stores are starting to crack down on hoarding by placing limits on items. Several have special hours for seniors to shop.

An employee who did not want his full name used because he was not given permission by his employer to speak to the media said the special senior hour was needed after an encounter with one woman.

“She started getting upset and she started getting frustrated. She wasn’t angry at us, but that she has to go in public and put herself at risk by coming out again,” recalled Jeremy, a grocery store employee.

Workers stressed customers should avoid buying too many groceries at one time to help maintain the supply chain and ensure there is enough for everyone.

“Sunday was when it really hit me. When I got to the front door the line was absolutely so long it broke my heart. It really did,” said Long. “I would like customers to slow down, calm down. We all know what’s going on. We’re all in this together. We have to protect each other and help each other.”

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