by Blake Herzog
Workers at grocery stores and other “essential businesses” have been getting widespread recognition during the Covid-19 pandemic as frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic. But one gesture of support still caught Norm Warren of Norm’s Hometown Grocery in Kearny by surprise.
“It came at a perfect time. Very uplifting. Our customers give us their business all the time, and they gave something back,” Warren said.
It happened at the end of March when he and his wife Myra were trying to keep their store’s shelves stocked as the panic-buying wave was cresting and many links in the supply chain were temporarily broken. Norm’s normally serves a population of about 5,000 in Kearny and surrounding communities as their only full-service grocery, but people from larger metro areas were also traveling there to stock up, exacerbating the shortages.
“Our shelves, we just weren’t looking that great, and it’s not like us. We usually have good, full shelves; we pride ourselves on running a clean store,” Warren said.
“When this happened, and we realized we couldn’t get stocked fast enough, it was a blow to not only our ego, but professionally because you just want your store to be ready for business and we couldn’t do it, it was out of our hands. It was very frustrating,” he added.
At the same time, the Kearny Little League was stuck with a bunch of burgers and hot dogs in its concession stand freezer to sell at the start of the season, which had been delayed indefinitely and was later canceled.
League President Lisa Migliore, who works at Ray Unified School District and had helped prepare sack lunches to hand out to students all week, said she and her husband Mike, also on the league’s board, stopped by Norm’s, a longtime Little League sponsor, one Friday night to find something for dinner.
“Limits were everywhere, you could see the toll the lack of shipments, dealing with new guidelines, and let’s face it the amount of mental drainage with Norm’s workers was apparent as we trotted through the store.
“We thought how on earth can we finish dinner with this one bag of frozen potatoes for our family of six? My husband then reminded us that they’re just doing the best they can,” she said.
On the way home there were several stressors on their minds, including what to do with the food in the concession stand.
Migliore said as soon as she brought up the subject, “Mike immediately answered we need to do something for these workers like the bags you’re doing at the school, can we do that? I thought, ‘Of course that’s where it needs to go.’”
The rest of the board agreed. The Migliores then went back to Norm’s to talk to the store manager, and saw Warren in the parking lot on their way out.
“We had a great talk, and of course ran it by him. Emotions running wild, it was a bit hard not to cry. See, we need this local grocery store. Things have come and gone in this area. This place keeps us fed, keeps us with vital things to living in a community that is so far away, especially for those who can’t travel. Our needs are at this local store,” Migliore said.
The board members met at the concession stand the afternoon of March 27 and from a safe social distance, grilled and bagged more than 30 hot dogs and hamburgers, a bit more than what Warren requested. “Of course, we counted two extra knowing Norm and Myra would’ve never included themselves in this number,” Migliore said.
The bags were set out on a table in the rear of the store, where employees in groups of one or two could pick them up while social distancing.
“Myra and I got a little emotional,” Warren said of that night. They’re both Kearny natives, and he was the store manager for a quarter-century before the couple purchased it in 2015.
“I guess we’re important to the town,” he said.