Flashes in the Field: Finding the Silver Lining
A woman wearing a face mask and gloves nervously enters Aladdin’s Eatery at The Strip in Belden Village to pick up her food. Clearly anxious, she expresses concern about touching anything to sign her receipt. She proceeds to wait outside of the restaurant for her server-turned-carryout hostess to deliver her order.
A Target customer attempts to check out with nearly 10 gallons of milk. He becomes irate and leaves the store without purchasing anything after the cashier gently reminds him that there is a limit of two gallons per customer.
This is a new reality for Kent State University at Stark’s working students – now essential employees – with jobs in food service, retail and more during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Dylon McElhaney is a senior English major working as a delivery driver for the Marco’s Pizza in Girard. “There’s a much larger emphasis on safety for both ourselves and the customers,” said the 2015 Howland High School graduate. “Every step of the process is sanitized to reduce that chance.”
John Gerber, a freshman in his second semester at Kent State Stark, works as a cashier at the Target in Jackson Township. Gerber acknowledges that he is a self-proclaimed “germaphobe” and has been more cautious than ever – even sanitizing the card reader and conveyor belt after every customer.
McElhaney explained that although some customers have been ignorant of the rules and precautions, most have been supportive and understanding.
“I’ve noticed a lot of kinder people, or, at least people show their kindness a bit more, whether that’s giving extra tips or just offering more conversation,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of people really sympathize with me delivering, even though I’m not doing anything that dangerous in comparison to the health care field.”
Hope Hutchings, a sophomore at Kent State Stark working as a carryout hostess at Aladdin’s, echoed McElhaney’s sentiment, saying that most customers have been considerate. “They know it’s not in our control. It’s not our fault,” she said.
Normalcy is certainly missed. “I do miss serving people,” added Hutchings, a communication studies major. “When you get a good table, or even a bad table, you have a connection with people. I miss the people who love coming out to eat.”
In addition to working, going to college – especially now that classes are delivered remotely –proves to be a learned balancing act. Hutchings, a 2018 Hoover High School graduate, said she is working hard to keep the same routine she had while taking in-person classes. Namely, she completes her coursework during the day and works in the evenings.
McElhaney said that while the semester has been challenging, he has experienced incredible support from the English faculty.
“Honestly, the (remote) courses, they’ve been really great, and I feel like all of my teachers have been extremely helpful during this time,” he said. “I really can’t thank enough my teachers because they’ve really went above and beyond this semester for me.”
Still, students long for days back on campus. “I miss walking with friends from one class to another, one building to another,” said Gerber, a 2019 Jackson High School graduate.
“I do miss conversations with other communication students – the interpersonal connection with other people,” said Hutchings. She’s keeping up in her “Criticism of Public Discourse” class by reading her textbook, but says of professor Lisa Waite, senior lecturer of communication studies, “I need her wisdom, her anecdotes!”
Until in-person classes resume, Kent State Stark students continue to find the silver lining.
“We are living through history,” explained Gerber. “It’s kind of exciting. I can say I was alive during the coronavirus pandemic. Every generation has their defining crisis. Millennials had 9/11. Generation Z has the coronavirus.” Said like a true political science/journalism major.
“This is obviously a very difficult situation, but I think we’re gonna get through this, and I think we will be better for it,” added McElhaney. “Not that this is a good thing, but I think that because of all this, maybe we will spend more time building up our health care system and appreciating our workers more.
“I just hope that there are some positives that come from this situation, but I know that as long as we stick together, we can get through this.”