Since mid-March, most of the office workers at Frieda’s have been working from home, either partially or full time. Because we are in the food business, we have continued to follow Good Manufacturing Practices, which involve certain sanitizing procedures. We distributed masks to our employees, put decals on the floor to indicate a distance of six feet, and in some instances relocated work stations. And we significantly increased the frequency of our sanitizing procedures and did a lot of training of all employees.
But I could never wrap my head around the need to take temperatures. I mean, in all the research I had done, the only information you get from doing that is you have someone’s temp. If they are asymptomatic, a person could have COVID but not have an elevated temperature. So we did not institute this in our facility.
I even talked honestly and off the record with some HR professionals, and they admitted that taking a person’s temperature before they enter a building or workplace was more of a “PR” move.
As I went to various doctor appointments over the past three months and to some restaurants, I noticed many businesses were taking my temperature before I could enter. Doctors’ offices always did a health survey, but because I always answered “no” to each question, it didn’t seem too disruptive.
As a company, we had been working on our written COVID Preparedness Plan, which included having formalized procedures for quarantining employees should any of them be exposed to or test positive for COVID. We already had the practices in place, but felt to have a written plan that would be distributed to all employees would be a smart thing to do. It would create more peace of mind for all.
And then one of our temporary workers in the warehouse, who had been home sick for a week, informed us that they tested positive for COVID. Like most employers, we had already experienced an employee being exposed to someone who tested positive and we had them self-isolate for 14 days. But to have someone who worked in our facility test positive put our team into high gear.
Within a couple of hours, we had done tracing, had identified any employees who had close contact with this person and sent them home to self-isolate. Our COVID team, including myself, was out and about in our facility, making sure to personally inform people of what we were doing and what actions we wanted them to take.
Taking the extra time to have our leadership team on the floor to answer any questions was a smart move. I think it made all our team members feel supported and informed.
When we were recapping afterwards (with masks on and standing at least six feet apart), I asked for feedback. Our HR person told me that a few employees had asked why we weren’t taking peoples’ temperatures before entering the building. We discussed it at that time, and what I learned was that the taking of temperatures would make all the employees feel “better.” So, even though it might not inform us if someone was positive for COVID, it would make the employees feel more comfortable coming to work.
So, within a day we had portable thermometers and were taking temps and having paper health surveys completed at the door. We had most of our office employees revert to working from home again. And this week, we installed a Contactless Temperature Screening Kiosk with facial recognition at the entrances to our building. Some of our employees find it kind of fun “scanning in!” Next week our health surveys will able to be completed on our payroll app.
Keeping our facility clean and safe is a given. But giving our team members peace of mind by responding to their suggestions was even more important to me.
Each time I walk our facility, I make eye contact with each person and thank them. They are my heroes. They are all heroes. We are all in this together.
About 6 weeks ago, my eldest daughter Alex (pictured above at age 8 months with Grandma Frieda, doing her first produce taste-test) texted me asking if she and her husband Ben could come down on Friday to have dinner with us at our home in San Clemente (70 miles from their house). It was out of the ordinary and off schedule for her to set up one of our family dinners (it is usually me setting them up once a month), but of course I said yes, absolutely!
I then had a dream that Alex and Ben were coming to tell us they were pregnant. When I asked Alex if that was so … she blew me off in complete Alex style, ”Mom, you need to calm down about that sh*t. We just want to have dinner with you guys.” And I bought it.
So, when they arrived for dinner that Friday, after they settled in, Alex said, “Mom, when I was cleaning out the garage, I realized when I moved out of grandmas’ house years ago, I accidently grabbed a box of her jewelry by mistake. I brought it back for you.” And then she handed me this black box.
I opened it up and it was a metal button, like a giant campaign button. I kind of rolled my eyes and said, “This is the jewelry that you were concerned about returning? Really?” Alex said, “Did you read it?”
Well, the minute I read the button, I blurted out: “Are you pregnant?” She smiled, I started crying and we hugged. Of course, later I learned that my son-in-law Ben was taping the whole scene, so we replayed it over and over that evening.
What was extra special about that button was it was the very button I gave MY mom—Frieda—when I announced I was expecting Alex back in 1989. What an incredible coincidence that Alex found it! It brought back memories of telling my parents that I was pregnant and their wonder through the whole experience of pregnancy through childbirth (they were both there in the delivery room when Alex was born!).
It turned out that Alex and Ben had dreamed up a special and unique way to surprise each of their immediate family members with their news. For my daughter Sophia, they visited her at work and presented her a sweatshirt that said, “Cool Aunt.” I so appreciate how Alex and Ben took the time to surprise me with their news and how they took great care to do the same for the other grandparents-to-be and their siblings.
As Alex and I talked about 2020 and all the happenings, she said to me, “Mom, we started the year with grandma passing away in January. The next weekend, Ben and I got our first dog, and named it Kiwi (in memory of grandma bringing the kiwifruit to America). Then came the pandemic. And now on Christmas Eve, our first son is due to arrive. What an unbelievable year 2020 will be!”
It is especially bittersweet for me, as Monday, August 10 is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 97. My sister Jackie and I and our immediate family of nieces, nephews, spouses and kids are gathering at mom’s house for a light snack and chocolate cupcakes (my mom’s favorite), with masks, separate tables and proper physical distancing. I’m sure we will reminisce by looking through old photos, telling funny “Grandma Frieda” stories and eating a few of her favorite foods (beets, olives, honey mustard and avocados).
And we will talk about the circle of life. 2020 is definitely an example of how the miracle of the circle of life works.
I remember my mom hearing from all her friends how much she would love being a grandparent. It was perplexing to her, as she admittedly didn’t have great motherly instincts. But from the moment Alex (and then Sophia) was born, she reveled with joy and pride how much fun it was to watch her offspring. She was there for every Grandparent Day at elementary school, every graduation and every life cycle event.
She softened over the years, but maintained her sharpness, wit and complete interest in others, up until a few days before she passed.
She would be so excited that I will now be able to experience the joy of becoming a grandparent.
So Happy Birthday, Mom! We miss you and will be celebrating you this weekend!
(Me, baby Alex at 6 months, and my mom, Frieda, celebrating Earth Day 1990 at our office)
Los Alamitos, CA (May 2020) – Karen Caplan, president and CEO of Frieda’s Specialty Produce was recently featured on the Washington, D.C.-based International Women’s Forum (IWF) Game Changers podcast, which first aired on May 7, to talk about the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on food availability around the world. Caplan was joined by Karla Chambers, co-owner and cofounder of Stahlbush Island Farms based in Corvallis, OR, who is treasurer of IWF Oregon, and host Anne Doyle, president of IWF Michigan. Caplan also serves as the president of the Southern California chapter of IFW.
IWF is global network of more than 7,000 women leaders united to advance women’s leadership and champion human equity. Game Changers is a monthly conversation with some of the trailblazing members of the IWF. These women are policymakers, executives, pioneers and instigators of change. In the studio, they share stories of lessons learned and insights gained from their journeys.
Caplan and Chambers were able to provide unique, first-hand insights on the global food supply chain due to their prominent roles within the fresh produce industry.
“There is no shortage of food, it’s all about the logistics,” Caplan said. “Because people are not traveling, not as many planes are available to fly freight to the U.S., and that has resulted in a challenged supply chain. We are seeing companies and organizations become so innovative right now, like the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program.”
Caplan and Chambers also went on to discuss what lessons they have learned and their outlook for the future. “I am grateful for our hard-working employees who come to work every day and help ensure we are able to pack the fruits and vegetables we grow on our farms,” Chambers said.
Caplan continued, “I’ve learned that the fresh produce industry is very resilient. When a door shuts, a window opens. There are always opportunities.” She also delivered a parting thought that resonates with many of us in the produce industry: “COVID-19 has taught every citizen to truly value the farmers, their land and the labor needed to harvest and pack in a bigger way.”
Tune in to the podcast here.
About Frieda’s Inc.
Frieda’s Specialty Produce has been inspiring new food experiences for friends, families and food lovers everywhere since 1962. From kiwifruit and dragon fruit to Stokes Purple® sweet potatoes and habanero peppers, Frieda’s has introduced more than 200 unique fruits and vegetables to the U.S. marketplace. Founded by produce industry trailblazer Dr. Frieda Rapoport Caplan, subject of the 2015 documentary “Fear No Fruit,” the family company is owned and operated by Frieda’s daughters, Karen Caplan and Jackie Caplan Wiggins, in Orange County, California. Find Frieda’s on Facebook, @FriedasProduce and Friedas.com. Inspire. Taste. Love.
About International Women’s Forum
IWF is committed to advancing women’s leadership globally and their membership includes more than 7,000 diverse and accomplished women from 33 nations on six continents. We answer high-achieving women leaders’ need for a community of diverse thinkers. We are shaping a future in which leadership has no gender and the next generation is inspired and equipped to transform the world.