“I don’t want anything to stop me from helping others.”
— D’Shea Grant, a delivery worker with DoorDash
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When D’Shea Grant has a tough day, she plays Mary J. Blige. Lately, she’s been playing her a lot.
Grant, 41, works what feels like two full-time jobs: In the daytime, she’s taking care of her daughter, De’Onna, 20, who has cerebral palsy. At night, she’s delivering meals through the company DoorDash, a food delivery app. In between, she’s catching up on sleep.
Grant, who lives in New York City, is one of roughly 200,000 food delivery workers in the country; on food delivery apps, the majority are women. At DoorDash, women make up over half of its “dashers” in suburban areas and more than 60 percent in cities. Grant says she likes the flexibility of the work, which allows her to spend the day with her daughter at home, or cancel shifts if she has a child care emergency.
But, of course, the pandemic has made everything more complicated.
Her deliveries now take longer because of the sanitizing routine she does between each one. Her customers are on edge, and Grant is too. She struggles to keep her daughter focused during virtual classes, and worries that the school shutdown could delay De’Onna’s graduation set for next year.
Leaving home to start her DoorDash shift isn’t easy for Grant, because she’s keenly aware of all the ways she can be exposed to the virus while on the job. She doesn’t have the luxury of keeping indoors, like the people for whom she delivers fresh meals. And now she is one of New York’s frontline workers: more than one million essential workers, or 25 percent of the city work force, who have continued crossing the boroughs, riding the subways, and weaving in and out of restaurants to keep the rest of the population safe and well-fed. Grant gets around by car, an Acura MDX that she bought in 2006, which helps her navigate the city safely though it comes with the costs of gas and upkeep.
“Do I ever take a bike? Heck no,” she laughed. (“But at first I thought you said, ‘Do I ever take a bite!’ Heck no, girl!”)
The nights are long, so Grant finds reasons to crack jokes throughout her delivery shifts. She likes to sing along to Lil Duval: “I ain’t going back and forth with you / I’m living my best life!” Some of the staff at the Caribbean and soul food restaurants where she does frequent pickups recognize her, and they play the music she likes when she walks through the door.
Long nights are helped along by people’s responses when she delivers their orders — pizza, salad, lo mein. She likes making eye contact with her customers from across a lobby, even when they can’t interact. “They’ll wave to you like, ‘thank you!’ and you can tell by the body language that they’re happy to get a hot meal,” Grant said.
“That attitude of being thankful and appreciative goes further than a dollar bill,” she said.
But of course the tips are important, too. Thankfully some customers have boosted their tips in recent weeks. On a good night, Grant takes home between $110 and $160, including wages and tips, from her seven-hour shift. Her mother watches De’Onna while she is at work.
Like so many others, Grant feels ready for life to return to normal. She misses going to church, having dinner with girlfriends and going to the gym. (Now she gets her workouts in by doing squats and high-knees when her customers’ food orders are delayed.) But most of all, she wants life to return to normal for the sake of De’Onna.
De’Onna is supposed to graduate next June from P.S. 233 in South Jamaica, Queens, which serves students with special needs.Worried that the shutdown could slow her daughter’s progress, Grant tries to make up the gap.
Each morning, they sit down and work through math and reading lessons together. Grant has been teaching her daughter to count by picking up objects, one by one. Then they visit a virtual museum together, like the Boston Children’s Museum or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And finally they do a virtual yoga class on YouTube. De’Onna can’t physically participate, Grant explained, but she likes to watch and take in the sounds.
De’Onna does not understand that a pandemic hit, so she gets confused when her mom explains that she can’t go to school or be with her friends. Like her mom, De’Onna is happiest when she’s around other people. Her classmates love her bright disposition and they “treat her like a queen,” Grant said.
“I hope we can go back to our routine so De’Onna can ride the bus and show off her brand-new wheelchair,” Grant said. It has chrome-red wheels and the seat tilts all the way back in case De’Onna needs to take a nap.
For now, though, they just keep going.
Evening arrives and Grant gets ready to leave the house. She kisses her daughter goodbye. Then she takes out her mask and gloves, and she says a prayer asking God for protection. “I’m not fearful, I’m cautious,” she said. “Because fear will stop you, and I don’t want anything to stop me from helping others.”