‘Gatekeeper at IGA’ serving the community: Julia Weisenberg spearheads effort for town

The first week or so things went smoothly at the IGA, when volunteers outside the store informed shoppers that only 15 people would be allowed in at any one time to ensure that social distancing was maintained to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Since then, it’s hit some rougher patches, said Julia Weisenberg, who is outside the store and also organizes volunteers who are there to provide information to shoppers at one of the Island’s social hubs.

They ask people to wear masks, and if they don’t have one, they will provide them. The volunteers also let shoppers know when they can enter the store to keep the 15-person maximum in play.

“The first week was a happy time, a social time, because people could get out of the house and see each other, even with social distancing, and that’s still happening,” Ms. Weisenberg said. “It was something new.”

But as a week turned into a month, “It’s beginning to wear on some people,” she added. “Last week was the most intense.”

While the great majority of people are following requests, some balk at wearing a mask in the store, even though the town has required masks when entering essential businesses.

Some are even reluctant to wear a mask when volunteers have them on hand for free.

Ms. Weisenberg and other volunteers have been asked by some shoppers to tell the management of IGA to “stop people who are not wearing masks,” or “tell the management to stop kids from running in the aisles,” she said. “We can’t do that. The IGA is an essential business and the management is doing a great job. We can’t give them instructions on how they’re operating.”

Ms. Weisenberg has received praise from town officials for her work. “Julia is doing an outstanding job, we refer to her as our ‘Gatekeeper at IGA,’” said Town Public Information Officer Jack Thilberg. “We all must do our part wearing a mask and continuing social distance practices. Julia helps ensure we’re all doing the best we can during these challenging times. We applaud her for her tireless efforts.”

A town employee working at the FIT Center just over a month ago, Ms. Weisenberg was furloughed from that position when the gym was closed. She worked with Carrie Wood for awhile at the Food Pantry before being contacted by Police Chief Jim Read, the town’s emergency management coordinator, to take on the role at the IGA and, along with Sara Mundy, organize other shifts at the store.

Town employees who have been furloughed are first in line to work as gatekeepers at the IGA, Ms. Weisenberg said, and if none are available, volunteers from the community will be used.

The system is working well, she said, with someone always outside the store, even in bad weather, to work with shoppers on the new guidelines. When Ms. Weisenberg isn’t at the store, she’s working online to organize the effort.

She said that an important way to help the community is “to respect the senior shopping hours,” referring to the town asking younger Islanders to avoid shopping at the IGA between 7 and 9 a.m. so seniors, the most vulnerable population for the coronavirus, can have access to the store and be able to maintain distance from other shoppers.

And then there’s the mask issue. “If you don’t have a mask, take one from the volunteers,” Ms. Weisenberg said.

Susan Schrott has made all the volunteers’ masks, she added.

Shoppers in need of masks are given information to contact Ms. Schrott, working with Lynne O’Neil Colligan, who will provide them without charge. Ms. Schrott’s email is: [email protected]