Finding Honolulu’s Helpers: Supermarket Cashier Lee Ann Verano Stays Resilient on the Food Front Line
The Foodland Farms worker knows—especially these days—that she and other grocery store workers often provide the only contact that many people have outside their homes.
At your regular supermarket, you might have a favorite cashier, the one you wait for even when other lines are shorter. If your store is Foodland Farms Ala Moana, that’s probably head cashier Lee Ann Verano. Smiling, spunky and speedy, she makes a big impression at Register 5. Verano knows—especially these days—that she and other grocery store workers often provide the only contact that many people have outside their homes.
“Our job is important, because we’re here to serve everyone,” says Verano, who encourages co-workers and customers to wear masks properly, wash their hands and take precautions. “We have to take care of ourselves, and everyone else.”
In 33 years at Foodland, Verano became a supermarket rock star: 2016 cashier of the year, featured in a TV commercial, and honored with the local chain’s most prestigious employee award in 2020 for exemplifying the can-do spirit of founder Maurice J. “Sully” Sullivan.
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Foodland Vice President Sheryl Toda recalls when the revamped Ala Moana store held its grand opening in August 2016. She saw a customer standing outside before dawn and told him that the store wouldn’t open until 10 a.m. He’d wait, he said, because “I want to be the first to welcome Lee Ann back.”
Managers describe her as friendly, dedicated and straightforward, a leader who listens and cares deeply. “She’s really good at what she does,” Toda says. And unless somebody pulls you aside and tells you, you wouldn’t know that Verano was hit hard by the pandemic; she lost her husband to the coronavirus on Sept. 27.
Jesse was 58. The Campbell High School sweethearts—together for more than 40 years—were married for 26. An injury put him on disability leave in 2019, and they both cared for his mom, who has dementia, in their ‘Ewa Beach home. Verano was the first of the two to contract COVID, on an O‘ahu vacation. Jesse took care of her. She says it started like the flu: “I was really, really tired. It took me eight hours to do laundry and that was just one load.” She stayed home from work for three weeks while Jesse stayed in another part of the house, “but he didn’t tell me when he got sick.” One morning he didn’t get out of bed; he died in the hospital 25 days later. Two weeks after that, her mom died of cancer.
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As difficult as the past few months have been, Verano keeps going. She thrives surrounded by people she cares about: “my crew” at work, her nieces, best friend, a cousin she goes walking with, as well as many of the customers who rely on her positive energy. Verano has her weepy days but credits her company with giving her the support she needs. “If I’m feeling blue, I just ask to go home because work’s not a good place to feel blue—people think you’re grumpy,” she says with a smile.
Appreciation from customers also makes a big difference. “Now when people come in they tell us ‘thank you for working’ or ‘thank you for being here,’ and it kind of makes you feel good, because we never got that before the pandemic.”