A Day in the Life of a BMCC Student Who is an Essential Worker

BMCC student working at Trader Joe's

April 23, 2020

Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) Liberal Arts major Monique Henry works at a busy Trader Joe’s on the lower east side of Manhattan.

Unlike the majority of New Yorkers who have been instructed to stay at home and limit time outside, public-facing grocery store workers such as Henry, are deemed “essential” for society. Simply put, were it not for workers like Henry who put themselves at risk by showing up to work each day, it would be next to impossible for millions of New Yorkers to put food on the table. 

From healthcare professionals to essential workers like Monique Henry, BMCC alumni, staff and students are working on the frontlines of the COVID 19 pandemic, the most widespread health threat in modern history.

Preparation begins before sunrise

Henry begins her day at 4:30 a.m. when she walks to the subway stop in her Williamsburg neighborhood and catches a train to the lower east side. Although she’s not scheduled to arrive at work until 5:30 a.m., she likes to get there early and help the team with the product breakdown and restocking the store’s shelves for the hundreds of customers that visit on any typical day.

Doors open 8 a.m. exclusively for seniors and the general public is allowed inside one hour later. Henry usually puts in seven to nine hours, five days each week. 

“My position changes by the hour, cash register, bagging groceries, directing customers to the registers available for the checkout process,” said Henry. ” While I’m on the floor, I need to be available to answer any product-related questions from customers and also restock.”

Taking measures to keep customers and employees safe

Trader Joe’s, among many grocery stores in the city, has been diligent about social distancing rules and other measures to protect both its employees as well as the public from coronavirus. The company has installed plexiglass barriers at cashier stations and they provides personal protective equipment as well as wellness checks for all crew members.

The store only allows a certain number of customers at a time into the store. Henry and other team members also spend part of their shifts sanitizing shopping carts and baskets. She said the store is also notifying customers that employees will no longer put product into reusable shopping bags that belong to customers. And despite a plethora of signs throughout the store, and markers on the floor, she sometimes has to remind customers to keep six feet distance between themselves while waiting in line to checkout.

Aiming for a nursing career through distance learning

Henry dedicates the two days she is off from work to her classwork and other BMCC activities. A member of the BMCC Learning Academy (BLA), she stays connected to her cohort members as well as the program’s counselors.

“There have been a lot of Zoom calls, Blackboard discussion boards and Blackboard Collaborate,” she said. 

Henry is also a member of the Panther Partners program. She checks in with her Panther Coach, Associate Director of  the Academic Advisement and Transfer Center Allana Burke, on a regular basis.

Two of Henry’s professors, English Professor Geoffrey (Geof) Klock and Communications Professor Christopher Moss have been especially supportive, she said. 

“Professor Klock has a special charisma that is so refreshing, relatable and unapologetic,” she said, “He’s like the professor that you wish you could take every semester.”

Nonetheless, the adjustment to distance learning has not been easy for Henry. Because of the pandemic, she has been working more at the store and left her with less time to focus on her assignments such as papers and assigned readings. 

“Since I have to get up so early, I need to be in bed by 8:30 each night, otherwise I’m cranky and not really able to perform at full capacity,” said Henry, who sometimes finishes assignments while eating dinner. 

Henry plans to apply to BMCC’s nursing program in Fall 2021. Her eventual goal is to become a nurse anesthesiologist and move to Charlotte N.C. and start a new life with her fiance.

“We were both born and raised here in the city and now we want a different way of life. We want homeownership, a car and a slower-paced lifestyle,” said Henry. “I see us married with children, both in careers that we enjoy and enjoying a beautiful home with lots of memories.”



  • Liberal Arts major Monique Henry works at busy grocery store during pandemic
  • Grocery store workers put themselves at risk each day they show up for work
  • Grocery store workers deemed essential to society

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