People & Perspectives

Day in the Life: Keeping a distribution center going during the COVID-19 pandemic

Read what life has been like for a function manager at our distribution center in Wisconsin – an employee of an essential business that’s open during the coronavirus pandemic.
Tim Schmelzer
From left: Lindy Webster, Lori Atkins and Jamie Schroud of the Location Control team at the Walgreens distribution center in Windsor, Wis., pack up an emergency order of disinfectant wipes.

Tim Schmelzer, function manager
at Walgreens distribution center in
Windsor, Wis.

In my 47 years with Walgreens, I’ve never seen toilet paper fly off of our shelves faster than I have in the last few weeks. And paper towels, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer – you name it. COVID-19 has caused a surge of panic-buying across the U.S., and our distribution center in Windsor, Wis., has risen to the challenge. Team members have volunteered to stay late, changed course as the situation evolves and supported one another throughout it all. Some people refer to it as “Midwestern work ethic.” To us, it’s just what we do.

The pace is new, though. Lately we’ve had to fill emergency orders on a daily basis, helping to get much-needed items to our stores as quickly as possible. As a function manager at our distribution center – one of 17 locations across the country – I help to make sure the building’s technology, even down to the telephones, runs smoothly. This is critical so our warehouse team members, who process, pick, pack and ship product orders around the clock, can continue to serve 871 Walgreens stores in five states.

What’s changed because of the virus
We’ve put many safety measures in place throughout the building – regular cleaning of high-traffic areas such as restrooms, break rooms, locker rooms, cubbies and offices. One of the other things we’ve done is open up our auditorium for additional space for people to take breaks while practicing social distancing. We have a planning meeting every morning that we've relocated to part of the auditorium, so we can spread out. We do other meetings by phone instead of in offices. And we've canceled non-essential meetings altogether.
My role in helping customers
We provide a valuable service of keeping as much product in stores as we can – especially the things customers are running out of lately, like cleaning supplies. Walgreens traditionally has these items, and we’re in nearly every community in America. But these are unprecedented times, and it’s painful to see empty shelves. So the message we're trying to send by working so hard to stock our stores is that we're supporting the customer … that we care about the customer.

General warehouse team member Clayton Adams (left) and group supervisor Andrea Moore move a pallet stacked with paper towels at the Walgreens distribution center in Jupiter, Fla.

Team members are my customers, too
Some of the emergency orders we’ve had recently are for items meant for our team members in stores. One Sunday afternoon, we got an order for cleaning supplies that we needed to get to 1,352 stores – some in Florida and Texas, more than our usual. We had a voluntary workforce come in to help. One of the things this distribution center has always had is extremely hard-working team members. Everyone understands this is unprecedented, so people were just working together and supporting each other. We got five truckloads shipped out within 24 hours. The other day, I was shopping in a Walgreens store, and the customer service associate was cleaning the checkout constantly. It’s important for customers coming into our stores to see store team members actively cleaning in an effort to keep not just themselves safe, but also our customers. Knowing that part of my role is providing these cleaning supplies in order for that to be done … it’s big.

My responsibility as a caretaker
My mother is older, and I'm her primary caretaker. She and her partner live alone in a house, and I stop there every morning on my way to work and again after work to help them and make sure they have their meals delivered. I’m taking as many precautions as I can so that I’m not putting them at risk.

From left: John Gehring, Rick Dresen, Rick Walton and Lloyd Keen stand in front of thousands of shipping labels at the Walgreens distribution center in Windsor, Wis.

How I decompress
For me, the best way is by taking a walk outside. I live in downtown Madison, and sometimes it’s hard to find a parking space on my block. At work, I park far away from the building – the equivalent of about two city blocks. So I park, and then I walk. It gives me an opportunity to collect my thoughts.
How I stay positive
Whether you’re worried about child care, the potential risk of getting sick or fulfilling a responsibility as a manager or as a caretaker, fear is a totally rational response. I think a lot of people are afraid, and there are times where I'm afraid, too. I try to be as understanding as possible, as patient as possible. We're all in this together. We don't have all the answers, but we need to be kind to one another. Having a positive outlook, not just at work but outside of work, can do a lot for a person’s ability to stay healthy. As much as it’s body, it's mind.


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