Collage for Ali Kuchel
Collage for Ali Kuchel

The COVID-19 heroes holding our region together

THEY'RE a group of unlikely heroes, who, right now, are holding the Lockyer Valley and Somerset together during the coronavirus pandemic.

Their every-day jobs have become some of the most important in the country.

Gatton Star editor Ali Kuchel shares their stories.

 

CHECKOUT OPERATOR- SAHMARA FRANCIS

 

NEXT PLEASE: Spanos SUPA IGA Gatton checkout chick Sahmara Francis. PHOTO: ALI KUCHEL
NEXT PLEASE: Spanos SUPA IGA Gatton checkout chick Sahmara Francis. PHOTO: ALI KUCHEL

A PERK of going to the supermarket during harsh lockdowns is the chance to talk to someone face-to-face.

And Sahmara Francis is the bubbly 16-year-old checkout chick up for a chat at Spano's Supa IGA Gatton.

On a normal weekday, Sahmara would be at Faith Lutheran College, but that has changed dramatically in the weeks since shoppers started panic buying.

Sahmara is just one supermarket worker whose job has gone from scanning items and calling "clean up on aisle three" to being one of the most important frontline workers in the country.

"Obviously a lot of chatter is around coronavirus, but that's OK if that's all the customer wants to talk about," she said.

"I just give people a chance to have a conversation."

She began her role as a checkout operator in June last year, and her bright personality has helped customers through a dark few weeks.

But whatever you do, don't call her a cashier.

"I love the fact I can come here and meet new people in the community," she said.

"We do have an older population, and when we ask the elderly customers how their day is, they really start to light up because they haven't had that human contact."

The coronavirus pandemic has placed strain on major supermarkets, with panic buying leaving shelves empty.

Its an issue Sahmara and the IGA Gatton team have faced daily.

But Sahmara believes the community have, for the most part, been understanding.

"I feel that a lot of people have been very patient with us," she said.

"We're in a good community where people will understand, and they try and work with us."

Sahmara said she doesn't fear catching coronavirus but was worried she could be a carrier.

 

TRUCK DRIVER - GAVIN MARTIN

 

NEXT DELIVERY: Nolans Transport truck driver Gavin Martin. PHOTO: ALI KUCHEL
NEXT DELIVERY: Nolans Transport truck driver Gavin Martin. PHOTO: ALI KUCHEL

FOR truck drivers, the coronavirus pandemic is like Christmas, but worse.

Loads are full, they're delivering more supplies to depots and supermarkets and fielding questions from drivers on their UHF radios.

While on their commute, delivering goods to depots and shops, "truckies have been asked if we are going to Coles, or other supermarkets," Gatton truck driver Gavin Martin said.

"People have called up on the UFH asking if we have toilet paper."

Gavin, who drives for Nolan's Transport, has been a truckie since he was 18-years-old.

He drives across Queensland daily in a truck sporting the number plate KOJAK - the nickname of the late Terry Nolan, who founded the Lockyer Valley business.

The sudden appreciation for truckies has been welcomed by Gavin, who has been driving for Nolan's Transport for 20 years

"It's good to see people are realising truck drivers are people they really need, because we deliver food," Gavin said.

"Food doesn't get to the shop on rail alone, you've got to use a truck to get it there and to the store, and people are starting to realise that."

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit Australia, Gavin said commuting to Brisbane with a delivery had become easier with less traffic.

"We have been shifting a lot more gear in the last couple of weeks, its been very busy," he said.

"It's good for the Valley and for the transport company, because people are needing it (supplies) and you've just got to get it moved."

He said depots had become more stringent on deliveries, asking truckies to drop paperwork at the door and not enter buildings.

With those rules in place, along with social distancing and hygiene measures, he said it reduced the risk of catching the virus.

"I'm not concerned about catching the virus at this stage," he said.

"If everyone does the right thing, then everyone should be OK. But there's always that one per cent."

 

DAVID MUNROW - AGRICULTURE "LITTLE TRUCK DRIVER"

 

Farm hand David Munro, at Maragi Farms, Lake Clarendon. PHOTO: ALI KUCHEL
Farm hand David Munro, at Maragi Farms, Lake Clarendon. PHOTO: ALI KUCHEL

 

 

IF there was ever a time to appreciate a farmer getting food from the paddock to plate - it's now.

David Munrow is just one of the agricultural industry's essential workers ensuring Australians are being provided with fresh produce daily.

"All I do is drive the little truck and pick up the shallots on the farm," David said.

Vegetable pickers put the shallots in the truck, then David delivers them to the packing shed to be washed and packed.

To some, it might sound like a mundane job, but driving the little truck with fresh vegetables is just one necessary step to get food from the paddock to the plate.

He has other tasks as well, a bit of "this and that", whatever needs completing at the Linnan's Maragi Farm at Lake Clarendon.

But David has one other important task - temperature testing all the vegetable pickers before they enter the field.

"I haven't come across anybody yet (with a high reading)," he said.

David works alongside a team of vegetable pickers, most of whom are from overseas, but said everyone was thankful to have a job.

"I'm just privileged that I've got a job - I'm lucky," he said. "Especially with all the hospitality staff and the like out of work.

"It would be devastating if something happened to our farm. I just hope everyone is trying to eat healthier and eating more vegetables."

David said he had been concerned about catching coronavirus but said everyone needed to be careful.

The 60-year-old has had to limit his time with his grandchildren to Facetime catch-ups.

"Don't go out and have barbecues and be in groups, just do the right thing," he urged.

 

 

DAVE PETERSEN - POSTIE

 

Australia Post postie Dave Petersen, at the Gatton Post Office. PHOTO: ALI KUCHEL
Australia Post postie Dave Petersen, at the Gatton Post Office. PHOTO: ALI KUCHEL

IF there is a positive to staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic, it's that posties are delivering more parcels instead of leaving calling cards.

And with parcel deliveries ramping up this week, it's keeping Dave Petersen and the rest of the Gatton postal delivery team busy.

"This week there has been a lot more parcels," Dave said.

"It's not as mad as Christmas, yet."

Dave has been a postie with Australia Post for the past 17 years and getting out on the bike on a nice spring day is the best job he could ask for.

He's gone from delivering letters and small parcels to people who ordered online, to delivering more online shopping and essential deliveries because the only way to get them was through the post.

Dave, a father of two, has become an essential worker.

"We probably are (essential workers) when you think of it," he said.

"People can only shop online so the only way people can get their items is through us and the couriers.

"When the virus was announced, the post was slow, I think people were at home worried about spending. But now they're at home with not a lot to do."

Dave, the happy-for-a-chat postman, said he was a bit sceptical of catching the virus, but he was happy to have his job delivering people their online shopping.

And he said people have continued to have a chat.

"A lot of people chat to me, whether it's about the virus or not," he said.

"Some are too friendly and come too close with the social distancing laws, but most people know what the rules are."

 

STEVEN IHLE - FRESH PRODUCE MANAGER

 

Woolworths Fernvale Fresh manager Steven Ihle. PHOTO: ALI KUCHEL
Woolworths Fernvale Fresh manager Steven Ihle. PHOTO: ALI KUCHEL

 

THERE are multiple departments in a supermarket, but the coronavirus pandemic has brought the Woolworths Fernvale team closer together.

For Steven Ihle, the Fresh manager, the sudden shift into the role of an essential worker has meant putting everything aside to focus purely on the customers.

"It's been quite surreal," he said.

"It's been very busy, but it's also been rewarding to see the importance of what we do in the community - getting food into our customers' trolleys so they can get it on to their kitchen table."

Steven began his career at Woolworths almost 13 years ago in a casual role, filling produce.

Today, he is responsible for the deli, seafood, milk and meat products sections, and heads up a team of 14 at the Fernvale store.

"We have a really positive team and we're united in doing what we can to serve our community," he said.

"I think being able to offer good customer service really helps us make a difference in the day-to-day lives of our customers."

Steven said he felt comfortable in the store and minimising the spread of coronavirus with the introduction of new procedures to protect both staff and shoppers.

"We've got social distancing guides and markers on the floor, check-out screens, alcohol wipes to disinfect trolleys and baskets and additional daily deep cleaning," he said.

"Everyone needs to take personal responsibility for this as well."

He said staff, if feeling unwell, were asked to stay away from work, and they asked customers to do the same.

"We are all in this together," he said.

He understood customer frustrations when it came to limited stock supplies.

"We're doing all we can to improve product availability and it is getting better. We've also been overwhelmed by the many words of support and encouragement," he said.

When he's not at work, Steven is the captain of the A-Grade North Ipswich field hockey team.

"It's a shame we can't play right now. I'm looking forward to starting back up on the other side of this crisis."

Do you know someone who has become a frontline essential worker? Let us know by emailing ali.kuchel@gattonstar.com.au


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