• Mary MacCarthy

Dollar Store manager: I hear more "thank yous" than before

Updated: May 6, 2020

Harold works as an Assistant Operations Manager at a Dollar Tree store in Denver. He’s one of the tens of millions of Americans who were already struggling to get by - even before the pandemic started.

In December, he came home to find sheriff’s deputies on his doorstep: the bank was foreclosing on his home, because he’d been struggling to make payments. That was before Covid-19 introduced a host of other challenges to his life. I reached out to Harold after stumbling upon his Twitter account, @AuroraDaddy, in which he comments on his work and on politics - comments I appreciated for their honesty and cleverness.

Masked up for another day at work

HOW ARE YOU GETTING BY? I’m just trying to keep my head above water. I’m trying to get as many hours as possible at work. You’d think with the run on groceries, getting hours would not be a problem - but our chain is actually cutting back on hours. Usually they schedule me for 35 hours. I want 40, and try to get at least 39. We stopped ordering out. With the kids, we used to order pizza and Chinese food. But it’s a lot cheaper to go to Safeway and get fixings to make pizza, or roast a whole chicken. We’re not going out to movies or anything. The fact that everything is shut down does help when it comes to saving money. I started working at Dollar Tree in November of 2018. At first I was a part-time employee. By February, Dollar Tree made me an Assistant Manager. That’s when they started giving me more hours. Before Dollar Tree I was on Medicaid [state-funded health insurance for low-income individuals and families], but now I’m making $200 too much per month to qualify for Medicaid!

When I look at the insurance plans that Dollar Tree is offering me - if I pay for any of those, I won’t be able to afford rent. So right now I’m uninsured. No one I know has come down with the virus. But you just don’t know who has it, since they say that 50-60% of people are asymptomatic. I live with my fiance, we have three of our five kids living with us - sons who are 14, 11, and 3. My fiance had been working as a medical assistant at a nonprofit that helps indigent people. But they’ve shuttered their doors now, because all funding has been reassigned to deal with the coronavirus. So she was laid off.

She’s been home with the kids, making sure they do their homework. Of course they’re also watching a lot of DVDs and Netflix. It might sound like a luxury to pay for Netflix but we need it right now, with the kids at home. Before Dollar Tree, I had two jobs I really loved. One was a contract specialist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. I was making good money and had great benefits. At the time I was struggling with alcohol and ended up missing days. When I got sober, I think they were scared I might relapse.

Harold says he tries to not bring any of his work stress home to his three sons (pictured: 3 year-old Andre)

After that I became a bus driver for Aurora Public Schools. I like to say that was the best job I never knew I wanted. I loved dealing with the kids. And I could get as many hours as I wanted, doing field trips, after-school activities, etc. But then I got a false positive on a drug test. Even though I was clean and sober. I’ve been clean and sober for seven years now.

What I would love to do is voice-overs. People tell me I have a voice for radio. I don’t hide my struggle with addiction. I hope my story can help someone. I have a big tattoo with a phoenix and the AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] symbol. Life is so much better than when I was drinking.

When I go in to work, with the pandemic, it’s different from before. I get thank yous from customers. People say thank you for being here, thank you for being open. Eighty-one percent of people are fine, they’re just regular folks.

Nineteen percent feel entitled. These ones are even worse now than they were before the coronavirus. They think the rules don’t apply to them. They don’t leave the six feet between people in line, don’t maintain social distancing. I saw a lady open a box of plastic gloves, take one out and try it on, then put it back in the box. I told her, you’ll have to buy those! But she just didn’t get it, that she could have the virus and be giving it to others. We get a truck of deliveries just one day a week. Customers think it’s every day, but that’s not how it works. We put out the food first. Then paper products, then cleaning supplies. I’ll put up 15-20 cases of disposable gloves, they’ll be gone in two days. When you go into the parking lot at the store, people are throwing their gloves on the ground. It’s disgusting. I also see people leaving them in carts.

Dollar Tree has provided us with some CDC-approved masks. They’re pretty good. And we’ve been given some gloves, but they’re really flimsy. You can’t open a box without them breaking open. So we’ve been storing some of the better gloves - the ones we sell to customers, consumer grade - we’re putting those aside for employee use. As an Assistant Manager, I have to make sure my employees are safe. Some of my employees are frightened about coming in. One has five children. What if she brings something home? I have another employee - he thinks all this will go away when the weather warms up. He even thinks it could all be a a hoax. So, just among the people I work with, I see the full spectrum of what Americans think about coronavirus.

As for the customers, we’re seeing a lot of people who are new to Dollar Tree. They’re trying to save money. They’re shocked when they see that we sell food. We have OroWeat Bread, Kraft mac’n’cheese, the same brands you see at the grocery store. We have people driving up in Lexus and Mercedes. They can’t believe how much money they could have been saving, shopping here. Now, they’re willing to drive the extra few minutes, to save a couple of bucks here and there. Why would you go to Target or WalMart, when you can get two bandanas for a buck? For years and years I was a Republican. A Black Republican. My father was a Democrat. And I’d listen to my grandfather who was a Black Republican from the south - the party of Abraham Lincoln. I became independent when Barack ran. I saw the vitriol and hate that came to the fore. I cannot stand the orange one who’s in office right now. I won’t say his name. I usually use a stronger word. I can’t believe that some people are so selfish right now. This time can’t be about me me me. It has to be about we and us. You can beat the virus. But what if you bring that to my mom who’s 77, or my child who’s three? You saw that just a few days ago with the protests against the lock-down. People saying I need to get out to get my hair done. Are you kidding me? It’s the same selfishness I see every day. I get customers who come in because they’re bored and they need to get out of the house. And they wander around for 45 minutes. That’s putting me and others at risk. Me me me.

We all saw the signs that said, if some people have to die to save the economy, that's okay. That’s what actual politicians are saying, too - that the economy is much more important than saving people’s lives. That we must sacrifice to make the GDP high. I’m flabbergasted, when I hear that. I try to not get angry, because I can’t do anything constructive with anger. It will just eat me up.

I do a lot of thinking, and I’m hoping that after this is over, we won’t ever get back to normal. Maybe people will start realizing what’s important.

Sporting the CDC-approved mask now supplied by his employer

For me to be considered an essential worker - that wasn’t the case six months ago. It’s nice to have sports and movies, but those people aren’t contributing to everyday life. When we get back to whatever the new normal is, people will realize who the heroes are. They’ll appreciate the people around you who make everyday life happen. It’s not just doctors and first responders. It’s also the people who work at the gas station. As for my kids, my daughter is adopted from China - she is staying with her mom. This is hard on my daughter because she has learning disabilities, so the focus of school is socialization. She has trouble speaking. It’s hard for her to no longer be in class every day. My sons who are 11 and 14 can do their schoolwork online, but for her it’s a lot more difficult. I’m hoping that all my kids realize that in life nothing is guaranteed. That you need to show gratitude for what you have when you have it, because it can all be taken away in an instant. Be thankful for what you have. Look around, and you’ll see people with less than what you have, who are happy. Don’t be upset when you can’t get the XBox you want, for example. In the big scheme of things, that’s not what’s important. I try to not bring any frustrations home. The kids know we’re struggling. But they don’t know how bad it is.

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