Phil Leboudec has been hearing words of thanks for him and staff at his Virgil valu-mart, and as much as it is “100 per cent appreciated,” he says, “we’re doing our job, doing what we always do.”
His most recent message of thanks, though, came from a completely unexpected source.
It began with “Hi there, Phil, my name’s James, and I’m an actor with the Shaw Festival company, coming to you today with the gift of song.”
Actor James Daly explained, in a video sent to Leboudec, that the Gift of Song is a project started at the Shaw, encouraging those in the company to nominate people in the community “who deserve a special shout-out to receive a song. You’ve been nominated. I hope you enjoy this song. It’s especially for you because we know how hard you’ve been working at valu-mart, bringing groceries out to cars, and keeping people fed, safe and healthy. Thank you for all you do. I hope you enjoy your gift of song.”
Leboudec said it was “pretty cool” to hear about his gift.
“And it had a beautiful message that came with it,” he added.
He has no idea who nominated him, although he did get a text from a mom whose child he had coached in soccer, asking for his contact information.
It always feels good to be appreciated, he said, especially when those who are displeased about something are more likely to be vocal. But during the pandemic, the messages of thanks are more frequent.
The positive messages, from the Shaw Festival and from passersby, “make it easier. It’s new, and very welcome,” he said. “It boosts your commitment to keep going.”
When the pandemic began, he said, and many businesses were shut down, the hardest part for him was ensuring his staff felt safe, and putting all the measures in place to be safe, for staff and customers. “We were scrambling to do what we needed, but we didn’t have a playbook. We didn’t know what we needed.”
Now, months later, with more businesses opening, others are going through that process, with new fears, feeling the anxiety he has been through.
He has 400 to 500 people walking through his doors each day, each with different opinions and perspectives about all the safety measures in place, he said, and “a small number of people with complaints,” who voice their opinions. “You brush those off and move on with your day,” he said.
Dealing with the pandemic and its impact on his business has become easier “in the sense that we know what we’re doing. Our routines are stabilized and we know what we have to do. But people need to understand, this is as loose as it gets. It’s not loosening up any time soon. There may be more openings, but this is the new normal, and will be for a few months at least.”
Leboudec said he’s grateful to have that period of figuring out what needs to be done behind him, and for now, “the playbook is set, and everyone knows the rules. But we can’t fall into a level of complacency. We have to keep our guards up. We can’t get too comfortable and forget why we’re doing the things we were doing in the first place.”
He said he feels fortunate to be living in a place “where 99 per cent of the people get it, respect it, and are willing to work together to take the measures to protect ourselves. We have an educated community. People here get it.”
He points to the Shaw Festival as an example of living in “a community of selfless people. I see tons and tons of that in the store, people offering to help others.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, he said, he had 65 employees, and lost 18 of them. ‘That’s significant,” as his business increased 40 per cent.
He hired people and trained them, but at first, when he looks back now, he describes that time as chaotic, crazy and hectic.
“At the end of the day, it took the community to get through it. It was a collaboration, it was everybody helping each other, shopping for each other, calling each other on a regular basis to make sure people had what they needed to get through this. “I’m not sure other communities have worked as well together. We’re very fortunate.”
The Shaw, he adds, which is cancelling performances, and facing its own difficulties, “takes the time to thank others. It’s not just the song that was the gift, or even the message, but that they are finding ways to help others, when they’re struggling themselves. It’s extremely selfless, when you’re struggling, to think of others. And there is a whole community of people doing that. The list of heroes has to be expanded. The whole definition of heroes needs to be expanded. Everyone who has reached out a hand to help someone else to get through this is a hero.”
The YouTube video of the Gift of Song is no longer available — the Shaw Festival says it only keeps them online for seven days.