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Mental Health Part 3: Food service employees faced stress due to COVID

Daily Item - 8/9/2022

Aug. 9—NORTHUMBERLAND — The benefits manager at Furmano Foods said the company took its role as an essential business seriously, especially when it came to the mental health of its employees.

Melinda Overdorf, the human resources benefits manager at Furmano Foods, 770 Cannery Road, Northumberland, said feeding people and making sure food was delivered became essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. The effort proved to be a strain on the mental health of all involved.

"We were able to produce and keep going," said Overdorf. "We could get that through the line, out the doors. We try to meet people's expectations. It was essential to keep our people working, to make sure they were on the job each day, to get the product out the door. It was stressful. We wanted to make sure our product would always be there."

A wellness coach was introduced and worked on-site two days a week, at least once for each shift. She would provide guidance in physical and mental health and promote the Employee Assistance Program through Bethesda. Through the company's health insurance, employees have access to virtual visits with a counselor, said Overdorf.

Employees were often asked to fill out surveys to discuss their stress levels. They were provided with handouts for resources and tips to handle stress, she said.

Overdorf said her own mental health struggled as she worked mostly from home because it was the "busiest time of my life." She said she had to track every employee's health records to determine who was quarantined due to exposure, who was hospitalized, who was able to come back, and taking phone calls about health-related questions, all while making sure everyone was paid properly, she said.

"It was very stressful," she said. "It changed our entire world. I was pretty much on call 24/7, weekdays and weekends."

Living alone, Overdorf said she worked long hours and would realize late at night she missed dinner.

Overdorf said her coping strategies and de-stressing come from church, good friends and family, prayer and talking with the company wellness coach.

The vice president of Surplus Outlet describes the small company as a flexible place to work. Justin Michaels, the vice-president of the grocery store located at 281 Point Township Drive, said the sense of family allowed employees to take the time off as needed if they felt overwhelmed.

"We have a job to do, but we have to take care of each other," he said.

Michaels said precautions were taken to help ease employee minds, such as masks, plexiglass at the registers, and sanitation stations.

"We're more than just an everyday business," said Michaels. "We offer groceries as a local community store. We have a responsibility to help with friends, family and neighbors. When COVID hit, people were scared. We wanted to make sure we had the necessary products."

Greg Renner, a long-time employee of 15 years, said he never stressed about himself, but he always worried about his fellow workers. The employees were always able to talk to each other.

"We had the option to take time off," said Renner. "It was an open door."

Employees often said it was their "duty" to work, they said.

"That's what we're here for," said Renner. "People got to eat. We have to be there to make sure people can eat and have their needs filled."


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