Like many people looking to generate a little income on the side, Gainesville resident Cory Powell signed up in February to be a delivery driver for local company 352 Delivery.
Initially, it was something Powell, 44, only did on weekends or weeknights. Then March came, with cases of COVID-19 sprouting up all over Florida. As the number of cases rose, all of Powell’s other work essentially shut down, making 352 his new priority.
Powell’s situation is not unique in Gainesville. Dean Turcol, the Media Relations Director for the delivery service Bite Squad, said in an email that their driver supply was elevated due to the pandemic, as “new restaurants are signing up for our services more rapidly than previous quarters.”
Bite Squad also announced in a separate press release that it was looking to hire 200 new contract drivers in Gainesville.
Turcol said drivers are being provided gloves and masks, all restaurant orders are conducted with no-contact delivery and the company would continue to pay any driver that contracts the coronavirus.
Powell said for the first couple weeks, 352 also had a no-contact policy as it tried to figure out how it would operate moving forward. The customers he’s interacted with since that policy was lifted have been just as eager as he is to avoid contact, yet he’s been in situations where a restaurant has been lenient with their policies about masks. He said this has deterred him from returning back there for more deliveries, and that his bosses are understanding of his hesitancy.
“Even if I’m getting good tips from that restaurant, it doesn’t really want to make me go back there,” he said.
He said he also thinks that the people who aren’t taking these precautions seriously aren’t truly in tune with the heart of Gainesville.
Powell used to work in the restaurant industry and has friends who are still in it. He’s grateful to be able to remain in the safety of his own car, where he can more easily control the points of contact he has with others.
He also said something positive that sprouted from the pandemic is that the 352 drivers have gotten much more efficient, dropping any unnecessary steps in the delivery process.
Even with many students leaving campus as a result of the pandemic, Powell hasn’t noticed any dropoff in the number of students he sees during his shifts. He theorizes that this is because of the local niche that 352 holds, where many college students who live permanently in Gainesville are more aware of the services they provide.
With the rate of deliveries across the country elevated, Powell said that he thinks many people will remain uneasy about dining in at restaurants, even if the number of cases goes down.
“I don’t think things are really safe yet,” he said. “And if there’s a lot of people that feel that way, then you’re not going to see delivery go away for a long time.”
Tasha Desideri, a 22-year-old recent UF graduate, has been delivering for DoorDash and Amazon Flex since the beginning of the Summer, partly because of the difficulty of finding a full-time job.
Desideri said that after her first few days of figuring out how to navigate the delivery process, the job has been great for her, providing much-needed flexibility. It’s also been safe, she said, the only exceptions being a few people not wearing masks when receiving their food orders.
With Amazon Flex, she spends most of her shifts delivering for Whole Foods. Over time, she’s been able to connect with some of the employees there, so much so that she landed a job, which she’s set to begin soon.
Unlike Powell, Desideri isn’t overly worried about the safety of working outside her car because of how sanitary Whole Foods is, whether it be their policy of providing masks to those without one, or the thoroughness of the COVID-19 training module she’s going through now.
She’s set for at least four more years in Gainesville, as she’ll be attending the UF College of Veterinary Medicine starting in the Fall. With students set to return, she said she thinks many of them will choose to deliver food to generate their income.
Being able to help people in need and make connections is one of the biggest reasons Desideri likes delivering. She remembers one delivery she made to an elderly couple that wasn’t comfortable shopping in a grocery store because of their immune systems not being strong enough. She remembers the large tip they gave her and the tremendous gratitude they showed for her service.
“I think it’s a great job because you get to help a lot of people,” she said. “And you’re really helping the community.”
Amid the business and lifestyle changes brought about by the pandemic, delivery drivers of Gainesville face change.