By Mark DeAngelis
When the sliding doors of Safeway opened for Employment Services last week, it truly seemed like a promise of what could be for some of our members.
Last Wednesday — the day before Gompers’ Annual Thanksgiving Luncheon — Anna, Jeremy, Michelle, Samantha and I made a trip to the Safeway store at 7th Street and Glendale Avenue to pick up 500 cookies for our feast, which was sponsored by a grant from Safeway Foundation.
We were hoping we might talk management into a quick tour of the premises to learn a bit more about the employees behind Safeway’s success and also to find out if there were jobs that might appeal to our members.
When we met Store Director Michelle Colgrove, we got that and so much more.
Michelle and Assistant Manager Nick Stika wasted no time in putting our cookies aside in a safe place and gathering our group for an impromptu tour. As introductions were made, manager Michelle pointed out she had the same name as one of our members, and they became fast friends.
Michelle and Nick started by telling us theirs was the busiest store in the Phoenix Division when it came to sales. It was very clean and beautifully decorated, with both fall/Thanksgiving displays and others celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah, so it certainly was an appealing place to shop.
We started in the Floral Department. Michelle asked our members what they thought the biggest holiday for flower sales was. Samantha answered correctly when she said it was Valentine’s Day. (Mother’s Day came in second.) We also visited the Produce Department and Jeremy guessed that the biggest seller there was bananas. Guess what? According to Michelle, bananas are the No. 1 seller in any grocery store. That may be so, but everyone enjoyed the samples of Fuji apple that Nick thoughtfully offered during our stop there.
Everyone was able to go behind the scenes and visit some of the areas where extra items are stocked that can’t fit on the grocery aisles. In addition to dry storage, there are large walk-in refrigerators for every department that has perishable products — and that’s a lot of refrigerator space!
From there, we went behind the meat counter into the butchers’ area and we were able to see how hamburger meat was ground. We also got to go behind the scenes into the Bakery Department, where manager Michelle had everyone hold hands and walk in, single-file, for safety. She had the chief baker — who has been with Safeway for 20 years — open a walk-in oven so that everyone could look inside and get an idea of just how much baking Safeway does. (Now it’s no mystery how they were able to supply 500 cookies so quickly!)
As we approached the front of the store, Nick brought us behind one of the checkout counters not in use and set it up so that our members could ring up groceries. Jeremy even tried his hand at bagging and liked it so much that he asked me to talk to his dad about working at Safeway!
Michelle was such a great teacher. I really liked how she prompted our members and cued them regarding items in a grocery store. She loved having another Michelle on the tour and they really got along. (Our Michelle told me she wanted to stay the rest of the day.) Samantha opened up to Michelle and walked into the huge freezer with her. Nick made sure everyone was taken care of and was so conscious of any needs we might have or opportunities for our members to step up and actively participate — just like they did at the cash register.
Evidently Gompers Employment Services made an impression on manager Michelle, too.
“Jeremy was very eager — it seems to me like he had a lot of ability and would fit into this environment,” she observed. “He took initiative and even said he wanted us to ask his parents about working at Safeway. Samantha was an absolute doll; I could tell she wanted to put herself out there, but was a little on the shy side. Michelle also stepped right up and was asking and answering questions. And, with how focused Gompers’ staff was on the members during the tour, it was obvious staff took a personal interest in their members’ learning experiences.”
Michelle told me her biggest joy in taking our members on a tour of our store was the curiosity and the desire she witnessed. “It seemed like they were so eager to learn,” she said. “Now that I better understand Gompers’ perspective from the employment side of it, there are things I see on our side that many of these individuals would be able to do, like aisle sweeps, bagging and talking to customers. It probably would be good for them to have some exposure in a setting like our store, maybe a couple of hours a week. I think it would be a great learning experience both for those of us at Safeway and for Gompers people coming in to learn what it takes to work in the grocery business.”
I should mention that this is the second consecutive year Safeway has stood behind our Thanksgiving feast. “The Safeway Foundation is proud to support Gompers’ Thanksgiving Luncheon again this year,” Safeway’s Director of Public Affairs Nancy Keane said. “As Arizona’s largest employer of people with disabilities, Safeway applauds the outstanding work that Gompers performs to help individuals fulfill their dreams and maximize their abilities.”
Thank you, Safeway, for opening your doors to us!
Mark DeAngelis is an Employment Services Supervisor who presently oversees safety and behavioral issues for approximately 40 members at Gompers Employment Services. DeAngelis has a master’s degree in special education with an emphasis in visual impairment (certification) in the State of Arizona.