By Nona Tepper
Jeremy Schumann has seen the Jewel-Osco, 7525 W. Lake St. in River Forest, remodeled five times, adding 10 self-checkout lanes. "This Jewel is the largest store in the Albertson chain, from a revenue standpoint, so it's the busiest," said Patrick Schumann, Jeremy's father. Jeremy, 46, has also seen the rise of reusable bags. But it's the regular customers that the Lombard resident remembers most, those who have made his job as a bagger one worth keeping.
On May 28, Schumann celebrated 20 years at Jewel-Osco.
"Every day, I'll see this one guy who comes in with his mom and he always says hi to me," Schumann said. "I'll have repeat customers who come up and say hi. … They come up and we talk sports and that kind of stuff, and it's fun."
A "huge Cubs fan," Schumann once had a customer who worked as an usher at Wrigley Field bring him posters, pendants and other Cubs-themed memorabilia.
When he was 30, Schumann was in and out of the hospital for seven months. He was born with hydrocephalus — a rare condition that prevents spinal fluid from draining from the brain — and a shunt in his brain stopped working and left him blind. Customers wouldn't stop asking his bosses where he was.
"They just love him," said his mother, Kris.
Schumann started as a bagger at Jewel when he was 26, finding the job through Community Support Services, a Brookfield-based organization that helps people with disabilities find job opportunities. When they suggested the River Forest Jewel, Schumann figured, since he lived in the village at the time, it would be a short commute. "OK," he shrugged, and applied. He went through the interview process and showed up for his first shift the Friday before Memorial Day.
"It's nice to be at one place for a long time," Schumann said. "You go, do your job, see the customers, interact with all the employees in the break room. … It's fun."
Schumann bags items for about six hours each shift and, through his union, is guaranteed at least 12 hours of work per week. He said weekends are the busiest time, particularly Sundays since that's when people plan lunches for the week and visit the grocery store after church. He leaves his black Labrador guide dog, Garrett, at home during the shifts, and uses his cane as support. Garrett, 5, has the same birthday as Schumann's sister Kelly, who is an actress on NBC's Superstore TV show.
"The dog has to stay in the break room and, with all the people coming in and out of the break room, I just thought it would be safer for the dog to stay home," he said.
He estimated that he goes through about three bag bundles per shift, each bundle containing 75 bags.
When he first started, Jewel instructed him to place at least eight items in each bag. Now it's five. He makes sure to bag items with chemicals separate from meat and fish, soft items apart from hard and "sometimes if a customer wants the eggs separate, I just keep the eggs separate," he said. "It depends on the customer and some customers are very needy." He also makes sure to always use two bags when bagging heavy items.
"A bagger is very important because if your groceries aren't bagged properly you go home with broken eggs, crushed bread, potato chips that are crumbs, and I think that a good bagger is an asset to any store," observed Kris. "My dad had a grocery store. I can't bag like [Jeremy] does, and I've done it my whole life."
Schumann said the hardest part of his job is when customers ignore him and are distracted on their phone. Shifts can also be hectic, since the store has several checkout lanes but few baggers. He moves from lane to lane and sometimes manages multiple orders at once. Working with reusable bags can also be challenging because Schumann only has mobility in one hand and sometimes customers' vegetables get caught in the bag handle. He has cerebral palsy, had surgery at 6 weeks old to implant a shunt in his brain, and suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed.
"Sometimes these people bring these huge bags and it's like, 'OK, how do I bag this?' Especially Ikea bags. They're flimsy and they don't like to close. I like those better for laundry, not for groceries," he said. "But the reusables are all right, and I think that's what they're going to go toward soon, and it's going to be interesting."
Bagging avocados is "the worst" for Schumann because he said they blend into the color of the register. His longtime friend and colleague Mike — who Schumann estimates has worked at the River Forest Jewel for 40 years — helps him locate and bag the fruit. He likes his bosses, too, like Kathy, the human resources official, or Stacy, the front-end manager, who have both been at the company since he started. Schumann even met his ex-fiancee at the store, who has worked there for 22 years.
"People who work there, they're all friendly with each other. It's not like someone comes in and does their job and takes off, and there's no interaction. There's lots of interaction among staff," noted Kris.
For his 20th anniversary, Schumann said Jewel gave him a cake, a pin with rubies, and a catalog of items he could choose to order.
Schumann uses the money he earns from Jewel to go on trips with the Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association, a group that provides people with disabilities social and recreational opportunities.
"My dad drives me to work every morning and then we have our routine," Schumann said. "We go get breakfast and sit at Jewel for a while. If I work at 8 o'clock, he'll drive me up at 7:50 in the morning. Then I get out of the car, then I go to work, then he picks me up, then I just come home, and that's a good day."
Answer Book 2019
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