EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Heading for the dairy shelves, clerk Cameron Caley, keeps the shelves stocked at Jack’s Fresh Market Monday in Menominee.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

Heading for the dairy shelves, clerk Cameron Caley, keeps the shelves stocked at Jack’s Fresh Market Monday in Menominee.

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MENOMINEE — Presidential Policy Directive 21 designates the food and agriculture sector as critical infrastructure, operating within a highly complex network that transports various goods across the country needed for survival and economic robustness. In fact, the U.S. government deems those goods so vital that it considers a breakdown or destruction of the system could create an incapacitating effect on national and economical security as well as the public health and safety of millions of U.S. citizens. 

“Proactive and coordinated efforts are necessary to strengthen and maintain a secure, functioning, and resilient critical infrastructure — including assets, networks, and systems — that are vital to public confidence and the Nation’s safety, prosperity, and well-being,” reads Directive 21.

Jason Boardman can attest to the necessity of that directive.

RAMPING UP TO FEED WISCONSINITES 

Boardman drives a delivery truck for a Chicago-based supplier, Chicago Baking Company. On a regular basis, he makes deliveries of an assortment of bread varieties to area grocers like Jack’s Fresh Market in Menominee. For Boardman, the quantity and timing of those truckloads occur with relative predictability. 

However, the terms “on a regular basis” and “with relative predictability” slipped out his driver’s side window somewhere along the road between the “city of normalcy” and the new world of COVID-19 as demands on vendor supply lines for various goods and staple foods made a sharp turn upwards about two weeks ago. It forced the company to make a few adjustments to keep the staple bread supplied.

“The demand for bread … it’s been pretty astronomical,” Boardman said Monday as he unloaded loaves of white bread at the Jack’s Fresh Market location in Menominee. “Our particular company has toned down the amount of different products. Now we are putting out more of the staple (varieties) and taking the others out for a little bit.” 

According to Boardman, the typical demand for white bread from his company at a store like Walmart hovers around 625 loaves. The order he made over last weekend soared to 1,400 loaves.

As such, the National Grocers Association (NGA) issued a certificate to wholesalers and suppliers for trucks and other delivery vehicles during the COVID-19 crisis. Titled “Shipment of Supplies Related to Critical Infrastructure,” the certificate enables drivers, who haul such goods, access to areas that might be restricted for reasons related to the crisis. It certifies the vehicle as one used for the transport of crucial food and agricultural products.

The document stems from a national emergency declaration on March 13 by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The declaration provides “hours-of-service regulatory relief” for commercial vehicle drivers who transport emergency relief and vital resources in response to the nationwide novel coronavirus outbreak.

UNITY OF TEAMWORK FILL DEMAND

On Monday, just inside the big delivery door at Jack’s in Menominee, Boardman confirmed that the demand for bread at Jack’s mirrors just about every location to which he delivers. Along with the size of his delivery loads, Boardman’s hours on the job also jumped. Usually, he hits his various locations on alternating days, but on Monday, Boardman said his company was asking him to hit every location. 

Kathleen Ziminski, owner of Jack’s at all three locations in Menominee and Marinette, commended her vendors, workers and the outpouring of support from across the community as area residents begin stepping up to the challenges and tearing down the obstacles that COVID-19 had initially raised.

“It’s been crazy,” Ziminski said. “But honestly, our team has been nothing short of incredible; people are working on their days off and coming in early and staying late.”

And Jack’s recently responded in kind, passing out gift cards to those employees. 

As the states of Michigan and Wisconsin began ramping up their declarations and emergency orders to battle the virus, Jack’s began mobilizing its own efforts early on. Managers and staff aimed for a level of preparation to accommodate the throngs of people who started clamoring for the toilet paper and other essentials in early March.

“We worked really hard when we this was coming, starting with our vendors,” Ziminski said. “We were trying to be proactive.” 

ONE CHALLENGE AT A TIME

And the pace of proactive operation continued Monday.

Despite the intensified efforts, challenges still arise. However, Ziminski explained that customers, employees and vendors continue to roll with the punches and take it one obstacle at a time. For example, she said that on Monday two grocery delivery trucks were scheduled; just one turned up. She pointed out that even the suppliers struggle to keep up with the demand.

But still, the themes of unity and teamwork ring true across the board.

“We are doing our best with our vendors to secure as many supplies as we can,” Ziminski said. “And (those efforts) come through utilizing the relationships that our managers have with different vendors.” 

UNFI, North America’s premier food wholesaler, who delivers to Jack’s, issued a press release March 16 addressing the strain on supply lines throughout its network. The company underscored the response that continues to amass at a national and local level. More specifically, the UNFI’s statements emphasized the vital importance of community unity like that that emerging across Menominee and Marinette, and among employees at local stores like Jack’s. 

“It is important for all Americans to know that they can continue to count on companies like ours to keep stores well-stocked … during this critical period,” said Steven L. Spinner, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of UNFI. “In addition to having a business continuity and safety plans in place …, UNFI is supplementing its coordination with federal, state, and local government agencies by collaborating directly with the White House and industry peers. We firmly believe that increased levels of public-private collaboration can further enhance UNFI’s around-the-clock efforts to meet our customers’ current and future needs.”

Ziminski agreed, and she reiterated the efforts made by both the community and her employees in their drive to uphold the vital networks, supplies and critical infrastructure that keeps stomachs across Marinette and Menominee filled. 

“I feel like all of our employees view what we are doing as a mission,” she said. “It’s about what you can do for your community. If we can’t get regular eggs, then we get bulk eggs … our job is to stay open so people have a source for food and grocery. If there is something that somebody needs just give us a call and we will do our best to get supplies and do what we can.”