Grocery store worker insisted on helping seniors, disabled before coronavirus death

Before she was diagnosed with and later died from COVID-19 complications, a Maryland grocery store worker told her mother she felt the need to help the elderly and disabled during this time of crisis.

Leilani Jordan's mother Zenobia Shepherd said until the end, her daughter insisted on going to her job as a clerk at Giant Food in Largo, about 15 miles outside of Washington, D.C.

"She thought that there was a need to be there to support our senior community and people with disabilities. When she coded in the hospital, she coded in my arms. When she flatlined, she flatlined in my arms," said Shepherd through tears.

Shepherd described her daughter, age 27, as a member of an army of unseen workers, the people who stock supermarket aisles or operate forklifts or work in sanitation -- those who are considered critical workers.

She said she kept her job at the Giant supermarket because she loved people.

"Six years and my baby's gone," Shepherd said. "Because of her passion and her love for people. Her love for helping people and would do anything. And do it with the smile."
Jordan died on March 16.

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Grocery workers across the globe are working the frontlines during lockdowns meant to keep the coronavirus from spreading. Their stores are deemed essential, and their work puts them close to the public and therefore at risk.

Often in low-wage jobs, the workers have earned praise from Pope Francis and former U.S. President Barack Obama. But with infection and death rates climbing, workers are demanding better pay, protections and access to testing.

And even when companies respond by raising pay, providing masks and gloves and limiting the number of customers in stores, workers are still scared.

Jake Pinelli, who works at a ShopRite in Aberdeen, New Jersey, said customers don't stay 6 feet away from others and typically don't wear masks or gloves. Staffers have protective gear, but the younger employees often give it to older co-workers or those they know have health conditions.

"Most of us are terrified," Pinelli said. But he stays on because he wants to help.

"I have not only bills to pay, but it's the only way right now I feel like I can do anything for my community and help out," Pinelli said.

Worldwide, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has climbed to nearly 1.5 million, with nearly 90,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are much higher, because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and the efforts of some governments to conceal the extent of their outbreaks.

For most, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms like fever and cough. But for some older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and death. Almost 330,000 people have recovered.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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