Alex Towery’s electricians showed up to work at the shop in San Rafael as if it were any other day. They were meeting up before heading out to the job, even though the job had changed.
Instead of wielding wire snippers or electrical gauges, these trained specialists were instead heading to grocery stores, armed with shopping lists from local seniors and others with medical issues.
As the electrical business slowed to a crawl, Towery decided to keep his 15 employees on the payroll by paying them to grocery shop for local homebound seniors.
“We’ve got some trucks and some guys that are enthusiastic about giving back to the community," Towery said through a black medical mask.
For the last couple weeks, Towery’s team has piled their work trucks with groceries from local grocery stores and delivered them to people’s homes.
On Thursday, electrician Kevin Johnson scanned a list of groceries requested by a Mill Valley senior before ducking into Whole Foods where he filled his cart with fresh vegetables, a whole chicken and eggs.
“It keeps us working,” Johnson said. “I’m filling eight-hour days as I normally would.”
Johnson said his own specialized skillset actually extended to grocery shopping, since he was the main food shopper in his own home. He deftly scanned the shopping list as he meandered through the store, checking off the list with the precision of, well, an electrician. Though it might not have been as challenging as his regular electrician job, Johnson said the reward was just as great.
“I’ve delivered to people recovering from cancer, to folks who just literally cannot leave the house," Johnson said.
Towery said the idea was to keep his workers working while providing a vital community service to those who couldn’t get out to get groceries. With the future unclear, he said he hoped to keep his employees on the job as long as he could.
“These guys are extremely skilled electricians,” Towery said. “These guys know what they’re doing in the field and it’s a very different role for them.”
Johnson wheeled his modestly-filled cart out of the store and transferred its bounty, which included toilet paper, to his work truck for the short drive to its recipient, Linda Sheridan and her husband in Mill Valley.
“Did you get toilet paper?” Sheridan shouted incredulously as if Johnson had just delivered the Crown Jewels.
“I did!" he answered.
Sheridan said she and her husband were at-risk seniors and unable to get to the stores to shop. The sight of Johnson and his truck brought her a sense of relief.
“Definitely gives me peace of mind,” Sheridan said. “And now I know we can eat for the next week or two.”
Towery said his phones had been ringing steadily over the past couple weeks as word of his grocery service got out. He said he’d gotten calls and even offers of donations from across the country.
“We’ve had so much gratitude,” Towery said. “Emails and letters from the people we’re delivering to.”
Johnson admitted a full day of grocery shopping was a lot of work. He said a co-worker decided the shopping was even more exhausting than working electrical jobs. Still Johnson theorized the idea of electricians fetching groceries was in reality not that big of a job leap — both, he said, fell under the realm of public service.
“Of course I’d rather be out in the field doing what I normally do,” Johnson said. “But we’re able to help others out and that’s what we’d do anyways.”