So much has changed in recent months. From shelter-in-place orders to students going to school online, more and more people are working from home and the larger community is practicing social distancing. But for frontline and essential workers like Aldi Store Manager Stephen Gualdoni, ’05, much has remained the same.

Gualdoni and his team are working harder than ever, ensuring grocery shelves are well-stocked and the store is ready to safely meet the needs of the community.

Prior to the stay-at-home order issued by Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, Gualdoni’s Bloomingdale store served about 1,500 customers per day during the week and 2,000 per day on the weekends. He said a few days before the order went into effect, business exploded. “It felt like every day was Black Friday and we were struggling to keep the shelves stocked.”

At first, it was apparent that customers were panic-buying “anything and everything [we had] on the shelves.” A few weeks into the stay-at-home order, Gualdoni saw a shift in customer buying habits.

“Buying habits have definitely changed. Products with a long shelf life, such as canned goods, pasta, and frozen meats and vegetables, are in high demand along with cleaning supplies. But the one that surprises me the most is the stockpiling of paper products, especially the toilet paper,” Gualdoni said.

Buying habits aren’t the only things that have changed recently. According to Gualdoni, Aldi has increased sanitizing protocols, altered store hours and implemented new occupancy limits to help ensure social distancing. Safety is a major focal point for both Aldi and Gualdoni right now.

Stephen Gualdoni ’05

“As a manager, my greatest concern for my employees is always their health and well-being,” Gualdoni said. “I need to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep everyone as safe as possible during these uncertain times.”

It can be difficult and stressful for essential workers to continue to come into work under such stressful circumstances and Gualdoni recognizes that. He credits his time at NIU for equipping him with the skills and tools necessary to navigate these difficult times and be a compassionate leader for his team.

“I am trying to be as empathetic to my team and their needs as I can be,” Gualdoni said. “Whether it is taking paid or unpaid time off, switching up schedules to better allow for changes in childcare or just having some more time at home in the comfort of loved ones, I am doing whatever I can.”

“I am just as appreciative as our customers for what my team does and the risks they take by coming into work every day.”

As Gualdoni pointed out, he is not the only one appreciative of his teams’ hard work and sacrifice. He shared how customers are stepping up to show their appreciation as well.

“There have been plenty of ‘thanks for all you do’ and ‘we appreciate all of your hard work,’ which is something we do not normally get, so it is nice to hear,” Gualdoni said. “It is a good motivation for us to keep going when times get tough.”

Gualdoni went on to share that some of the store’s regular customers have shown their appreciation by giving team members gift cards or by bringing in meals and homemade treats to ensure everyone is keeping fed while working in such a stressful environment.

When asked what it feels like to be an essential worker at this time, Gualdoni shared that there is a “definite sense of pride” in being able to be there and help people provide food for their families. While Gualdoni admits that there have been times when he has wished he could be at home with his family, he understands the important role that he and all essential workers are playing at this time.

“I have two brothers who are also essential workers,” Gualdoni said, citing that his brothers, who are also NIU alumni, currently serve as a firefighter/EMT and a police officer. “We are all out there working as much or even more than usual. Unfortunately, this means that we must keep our distance from the rest of the family, who are sheltering in place, but they could not be prouder of us. Having that support makes for a great motivator!”

While Gualdoni and his team will continue to do their best to serve their community, he does have some important words of advice.

“Be patient and do not panic,” Gualdoni said. “If you are going to the store, check with neighbors and loved ones to see if you can pick up anything for them while you are out. Or look into grocery delivery services.”

He noted that this will help cut down on the number of people who are out in the stores and will also help promote the CDC’s social-distancing guidelines.

While Gualdoni warns that there may be lines to get into stores or longer lines at the checkout, he points out that these are all measures meant to keep everyone safe.

Most importantly, Gualdoni added: “We still have the majority of our products in stock on a daily basis and there is no need to hoard anything, especially toilet paper!”