Community remembers beloved West Broadway grocery store clerk who died from COVID-19

Customers and staff at a West Broadway grocery store are mourning the loss of a cashier who many knew by name and looked forward to seeing on their weekly shopping trip.

Shirley Picca died Friday after spending several weeks on a ventilator in the intensive care unit at Grace Hospital after she became ill with COVID-19 in November.

“She [was] a sweetheart, she had a smile that was very contagious, a warm loving spirit, she took personal interest in everybody and she was a hard worker,” said customer Charlotte Ramsaran.

“She was very concerned about how you’re doing, how your family was, and she had a contagious laugh and it would make your day.”

Charlotte Ramsaran said Picca had a contagious smile and would always ask customers about how they were doing. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

The 70-year-old worked at the Maryland Street Foodfare for over a decade and became a familiar face for those who shopped there.

Store manager Ramsey Zeid said he’d known Picca for years through a family friend before she started working for him 12 or 13 years ago.

“She showed up one day and says ‘I’m working here now’ and that was the end of the story,” said Zeid.

“She’s everybody’s friend, everybody’s grandma, everybody’s confident, psychologist, you could sit there and tell her your problems, and she’d listen, she’d give you advice,” he said.

 “Sometime you didn’t like the advice that she gave you, but she gave it to you straight.”

Maryland Street Foodfare general manager Ramsey Zeid says Picca was ‘everybody’s grandma’ and was well-known by many customers. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Zeid said staff at the store are still in shock over her passing and customers have noticed she’s been away. 

“There’s customers that come in here specifically just to see her,” he said.

“They’ll wait in line to buy something and other lanes will be open and they won’t go to the other lanes because they want to talk to Shirley.”

Longtime customer Katherine Carruthers said she developed a bond with the grocery store employee and the pair became coffee friends, meeting up to share stories about their grandkids.

“I do not know what I will do for advice, I will be missing her from the bottom of my heart,” said Carruthers.

Family collecting gift cards for nurses

Zeid said when Picca was admitted to hospital her son, daughter-in-law and three granddaughters couldn’t visit her.

“They were heartbroken,” he said.

Picca’s son said his daughters decided to collect gift cards and handmade thank you notes as a way of expressing their appreciation to the staff who were caring for their grandmother.

They created an Instagram account to share what they were doing and called it The Kindness Project.

In just a few weeks they’ve collected thousands of dollars in restaurant gift cards and hundreds of thank you cards.

‘She’s going to be missed’

Zeid and Picca’s son say they don’t know where she contracted COVID-19 but don’t believe she got it at work because she was off for a couple weeks before testing positive. No one else at the store became sick.

Carruthers said she wanted Picca’s family to feel supported during this time and knows her loss will leave a void in the community.

“I would like to express to [her] family how much we will miss her here, it doesn’t compare to what they will miss, but … we would like to see them through this very difficult time,” said Carruthers.

Katherine Carruthers has known Picca since she started working at the West Broadway grocery store, the pair became friends over the years meeting up for coffee to catch up. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

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