Archdiocese Local

Businesses, employees adapt to changing work environment due to coronavirus

Robert Shea, owner of Trinity House, a Catholic book and gift store in Overland Park, has moved his business to online-only in the wake of the Kansas City metro area’s stay-at-home order. Shea says, however, that his business can ship items quickly to meet his customers’ needs. LEAVEN PHOTO BY LORI WOOD HABIGER

by Todd Habiger

SHAWNEE — As the coronavirus wreaks havoc across the world, there is no such thing as business as usual. But for many, business still continues, jobs need to be done, bills need to be paid and people still work in some form or another.

Untimely disruption

For Trinity House, a Catholic gift and bookstore in Overland Park, now is supposed to be its busy season.

 “Normally, this is a very busy time of year for Catholic stores because of first Communion and confirmations, Holy Week coming up and people coming into the church,” said Robert Shea, owner of Trinity House and member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood.

But the coronavirus pandemic has changed all of that. When people started quarantining themselves and practicing social distancing, business slowed down considerably. Now with the Kansas City metro stay-at-home order, Shea is worried.

“Our inventory at this time of the year is at its highest,” Shea said. “We purchased all this merchandise, and it’s not going to be sold, at least not for the foreseeable future. But the bills still have to be paid.

“As a small business owner, we have all our normal bills — our overhead, rent and utilities. And, of course, we have our employees. They’re like family.”

Robert Shea, owner of Trinity House, said his business will ship items to people during this time of social distancing. LEAVEN PHOTO BY LORI WOOD HABIGER

With the stay-at-home order, Shea has moved his business exclusively online for the time being. But he’s confident that he can still fulfill his customers’ needs.

“If somebody in the KC metro area is looking for a book, or a first Communion or confirmation gift that they know is going to come up — they just don’t know when — their local Catholic store is here for them,” he said.

Trinity House’s website has a large selection of books and gifts that Shea said can be shipped the next day.

“The internet business is not going to replace the walk-in business,” he said. “But if it helps to cover some of our overhead, that’s great. We just want to be here for people.”

Road runner

Not much has changed for Alton Ludolph, a parishioner of St. Teresa Parish, Westphalia. As the owner of Ludolph Truck Line, his services are still needed — and in some ways, irreplaceable.

Specializing in hauling primarily grain and livestock, Ludolph has contracts that are still being fulfilled and he is still making over-the-road runs.

But with the threat of coronavirus, Ludolph and his employees are taking precautions to stay safe in the midst of the pandemic.

“We try to limit our contact as much as we can,” he said. “The grain elevator operators are also doing that. They try to limit the contact they have with everybody. Just do your thing, leave and get back home.”

Although the majority of his trips can be done in a day, Ludolph has heard that many long-haul truckers are having difficulties.

“I know of guys who are on the road who are having a hard time finding a place to eat or to shower,” he said.

Despite his business being largely unaffected, Ludolph still worries about the long-range future as some farmers could decide not to sell until prices get better.

“Right now, the price [for them] is so bad that there are not many cattle or much grain moving other than what was contracted earlier,” he said.

His big concern right now is keeping his employees busy and paid.

“I have two employees that I try to keep as busy as I can,” he said. “Whenever some loads come up, I let them have the first chance at them. I’m trying to keep everybody busy until this is over.”

Trading places

To paraphrase an old show business saying: The government must go on. As such, Leslie Friedel, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Shawnee, is still working — but now she has to do it from home.

As the principal analyst supervisor for Johnson County, she’s part of a team that works with departments to find process improvements, collaborative partnerships and performance measures.

Until the stay-at-home order, Friedel was going into the office every day.

“I like sitting down and working with people. That’s a lot of my job,” she said. “I like coming into work because it’s here, I’m here, and when I leave, it provides that clear divide between work and home.”

Now that all has to change. When the stay-at-home order hit, Friedel was    suddenly forced to work from home. With her husband Tim, also working at home, as well as three adult children living with them, the Friedels scrambled to find a way to accommodate all their working needs — but they did it.

Still, Friedel still expects there to be challenges.

“I will have to be disciplined on not working into the evenings and/or weekends,” she said.

Friedel hopes to adhere to a semi-strict work routine to avoid becoming consumed by work.

“Things change quickly,” she said. “I’m just trying to be flexible and live in the moment.”

As part of the government, Friedel has seen up-close how hard the county health department has been working during this pandemic.

“Major props [to them],” she said. “They have been putting in long hours with the cities to take all the precautions necessary. They’re working hard and doing their best.”

On the front lines

There’s no escaping coronavirus for Judy Highberger, a parishioner of St. Teresa Parish, Westphalia.

Highberger is an emergency room nurse at Allen County Regional Hospital in Iola.

While the ER is focused on dealing with immediate life-threatening situations, the specter of coronavirus hangs over everything the ER does.

“We are taking a few extra precautions,” Highberger said. “For instance, we are just allowing one person back with the patient — but even that could change soon. We mask everybody as they come into the hospital, and visitors are limited throughout the hospital.”

Still, just coming into contact with so many people daily makes medical personnel at a high risk for catching the virus. But that doesn’t change the type of care Highberger and her co-workers give. They just give it with a little more caution.

“We are sure to keep our distance more than usual,” she said.

And there is no longer any hugging of patients, which is difficult, said Highberger, because “they always want to hug you.”

But nurses are nothing if not resourceful.

 “I kind of do a dance and say this is a corona hug for you,” she said.

Highberger prays the rosary every time she drives to work. She has for years. She sees her job as a corporal work of mercy — to care for the sick.

“That’s part of what drives us. This is what we do,” she said. “If you are nursing for the right reason, you feel that every day. Right now, this is just a little bit more of a challenge.”

Despite the highly contagious nature of coronavirus and the risks she and her fellow nurses take going to work every day, Highberger is proud of how those in her profession have reacted in the face of the pandemic.

“I have not met a nurse yet who is afraid to come to work. That’s what we signed up to do,” she said.

About the author

Todd Habiger

Todd has been the production manager for The Leaven since 1995. Under his direction The Leaven has won multiple design awards from the Catholic Press Association. Prior to working at The Leaven, Todd was an award-winning writer for The Catholic Key newspaper in Kansas City, Mo. Todd is married to Lori Wood Habiger, a former Leaven employee herself. They have two children — Paige and Connor, and one dog — Joli.

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