DULUTH — Ashley Sivertson is among many of the Northland’s essential frontline workers — the medical staff, the bus drivers, the grocery store cashiers and more — who showed up and punched in as we all clung to the ever-developing news of the coronavirus.
When COVID-19 prompted shutdowns across Minnesota, Sivertson was three months pregnant and working at Woodland Short Stop, a gas station and convenience store in Duluth.
"It was a little bit concerning: Am I safe? Is the baby safe?" she recalled thinking last March.
Sivertson has been with the Short Stop team for several years, and at the Woodland location for the past three. She said she felt cared for while on the clock.
As states are opening up, she reflected on the past year: the intense sanitation, the sometimes tense situations with customers who didn’t want to wear masks, feeling like she wanted to change her clothes as soon as she got home.
“I felt responsible to keep our stores super clean and well-stocked, and I felt responsible to be here for our neighbors and keep our stores the best they could be for them," she said.
This fall, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
After 12 weeks of maternity leave, she returned to work in December. It was nerve-racking going back into the field and come home to the baby, she said.
But, as the world is opening up and more people are getting vaccinated, she said she feels safer on the clock — and customers are happy to ditch the face masks, too.
Sivertson took time to talk about her go-to snacks at the store, what it means to be an essential worker and more.
Q: In the early days of the pandemic, many stores sold out of key items. Did the pandemic affect your store's top-selling items?
A: Absolutely. We were constantly running out of top items due to plants shutting down, lack of workers on the production line and other reasons. You never knew what was going to come in week to week. It was frustrating to both our customers and employees.
On a more specific note: a year ago, our stores had the best selection of Mike and Ike’s in town. We had every flavor, theater boxes and the little 25-cent boxes for the kids. We would only occasionally get in a few odd, lesser-selling flavors.
Thankfully now, we have the top few flavors back in stock and even a couple limited edition new ones like Cotton Candy and Root Beer Float.
Q: What does it mean to you to be an essential worker?
A: To me, it means to be someone who works to support people in their everyday lives.
We sell the fuel for your car to get you to work, to get your kids to school. The milk for their cereal. We are your quick lunch when you don’t have time to make it. Coffee to start your day, to get you through, until it’s time to head back home to what matters most.
Q: Was there a stand-out positive moment with your regulars, and how did it impact you on the job?
A: Everyday people thanked us for being there. One customer in particular, during quarantine, left us his change from a $100 bill and told us to buy lunch. Said he saw how hard we’d been working. One of us had just come in from sanitizing every nook and cranny on the gas pumps, and it was just really nice to feel appreciated by our customer.
It felt good to know that they saw what we were doing.
Q: Any takeaways or tips from being an essential working mama at home?
A: Hang on, it’s a wild ride. Take the best care of yourself that you can. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Eat healthy, drink water, exercise and try to get enough sleep.
Being a full-time worker and a mother, you have two full-time jobs, and that takes an incredible amount of energy. Coffee helps, but it doesn’t take the place of overall self-care.
Q: What’s your go-to snack from the store?
A: Usually, Blue Diamond almonds. I tend to go for the good-for-you options.
If I were choosing the absolute most delicious thing in the store though, I’d say it would be Rich’s Sweet Middles Carrot Cakes. They are mini carrot cake cookie cream sandwiches. Decadent, to say the least.