Ashley Sivertson is among many of the Northland’s essential frontline workers — the medical staff, the bus drivers, the grocery store cashiers and more — who showed up and punched in as we all clung to the ever-developing news of the coronavirus.
When COVID-19 prompted shutdowns across Minnesota, Sivertson was three months pregnant and working at Woodland Short Stop, a gas station and convenience store.
"It was a little bit concerning: Am I safe? Is the baby safe?" she recalled thinking last March.
Sivertson has been with the Short Stop team for several years, and at the Woodland location for the past three. She said she felt cared for while on the clock.
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As states are opening up, she reflected on the past year: the intense sanitation, the sometimes tense situations with customers who didn’t want to wear masks, feeling like she wanted to change her clothes as soon as she got home.
“I felt responsible to keep our stores super clean and well-stocked, and I felt responsible to be here for our neighbors and keep our stores the best they could be for them," she said.
This fall, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
After 12 weeks of maternity leave, she returned to work in December. It was nerve-racking going back into the field and come home to the baby, she said.
But, as the world is opening up and more people are getting vaccinated, she said she feels safer on the clock — and customers are happy to ditch the facemasks, too.
Sivertson took time to talk about her go-to snacks at the store, what it means to be an essential worker and more.
Q: In the early days of the pandemic, many stores sold out of key items. Did the pandemic affect your store's top-selling items?
A: Absolutely. We were constantly running out of top items due to plants shutting down, lack of workers on the production line and other reasons. You never knew what was going to come in week to week. It was frustrating to both our customers and employees.
On a more specific note: a year ago, our stores had the best selection of Mike and Ike’s in town. We had every flavor, theatre boxes and the little 25-cent boxes for the kids. We would only occasionally get in a few odd, lesser-selling flavors.
Thankfully now, we have the top few flavors back in stock and even a couple limited edition new ones like Cotton Candy and Root Beer Float.
Q: What does it mean to you to be an essential worker?
A: To me, it means to be someone who works to support people in their everyday lives.
We sell the fuel for your car to get you to work, to get your kids to school. The milk for their cereal. We are your quick lunch when you don’t have time to make it. Coffee to start your day, to get you through, until it’s time to head back home to what matters most.
Q: Did you connect with other essential workers during the past year? If so, how did you support each other?
A: We tried to order lunch from Sammy’s Pizza at least every other week to give them a little extra business. Other essential workers would stop in for coffee and snacks to fuel their day. We’d share our stories and listen to theirs as we rung them up. It was a new and strange time for everyone.
One of our employees in particular, Barbra Khan, was able to support other parents with school-age children as they navigated the struggles of distance learning. Hopefully, every story we shared or listened to, every “hang in there; you got this,” helped someone have a better day.
Q: You mentioned there are a lot of regulars at your store. Name a stand-out positive interaction during the pandemic, and how did a moment like that impact you on the job?
A: Everyday people thanked us for being there. One customer in particular, during quarantine, left us his change from a $100 bill and told us to buy lunch. Said he saw how hard we’d been working. One of us had just come in from sanitizing every nook and cranny on the gas pumps, and it was just really nice to feel appreciated by our customer.
It felt good to know that they saw what we were doing.
Q: You gave birth to your son, Steve, in the fall. Any takeaways or tips from being an essential working mama at home?
A: Hang on, it’s a wild ride. Take the best care of yourself that you can. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Eat healthy, drink water, exercise and try to get enough sleep.
Being a full-time worker and a mother, you have two full-time jobs, and that takes an incredible amount of energy. Coffee helps, but it doesn’t take the place of overall self-care.
Q: What’s your go-to snack from the store?
A: Usually, Blue Diamond almonds. I tend to go for the good-for-you options.
If I were choosing the absolute most delicious thing in the store though, I’d say it would be Rich’s Sweet Middles Carrot Cakes. They are mini carrot cake cookie cream sandwiches. Decadent, to say the least.
Q: If you could have dinner with any three people, alive or dead, who would they be, and why?
A: This is a hard one for me. I never really thought about who I idolize. Would it be strong, smart, successful women like Michelle Obama or Kamala Harris? Would it be the beautiful, successful, fiery country singer Miranda Lambert?
I’d love to meet them, but I’m not sure what we would talk about.
No. 1 would be my husband. We are two of a kind. Constantly working on something and trying to achieve the dreams we have in mind. Between that and taking care of our two boys, Sam (5) and Steve (8 months), there’s not a lot of time for us. One of these days soon, we’ll sneak a night date into our busy lives. But when every day with someone is the best day of your life, going on a date isn’t all that important.
No. 2 would be my late grandfather Earl Anderson. He passed away several years ago at age 92. He lived in Grand Marais, and we didn’t make it up to see him very often when I was growing up. He was a WWII vet, and after my grandma passed away, he never had too much to say.
When I was in my early 20s, I traveled to Grand Marais more often for camping trips, so we’d stop and see him. He seemed like he was finally coming out of his shell, and before I knew it, he was gone. I wish I would have gotten to hear more of his story.
No. 3 would be my late grandmother-in-law Dorie Sivertson. I’d only known her a few short years, but we had an incredible bond over our first-born, Sam. He made her a great-grandma, and she loved him as much as we did. She was an inspiring, artistic, independent and strong woman — another person I didn’t get enough time with in life.
Feature an essential worker
Know an essential worker with a story to share? Email Melinda Lavine at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 218-723-5346.