Manchester custodial staff photo
The Manchester University custodial staff collectively won the 2021 Garber Award for their work to keep campus clean and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo provided by MU

Manchester Custodial Staff Receives Garber Award

Grace Denison

The entire custodial staff at Manchester University received the Garber Award Citation for 2021 as their hard work in keeping the university sanitized during the pandemic paid off.

The Garber Award Citation has been given out for six years now, and it is intended to be an individual award for the staff member that shows their commitment to Manchester University every day. This award will continue to be an individual award in the future, but in 2021, President McFadden noted, the entire custodial staff earned it. His citation to the custodial staff follows:

This University had not faced a pandemic in more than 100 years. And while we have learned a lot about COVID-19’s transmission and how best to protect ourselves, there was a lot we didn’t know in the early days. That’s what makes the work of the custodial department this past year and a half all the more remarkable.

When our communities, our state and much of the country went into lockdown in the spring of 2020, many of us went home to work. I know that wasn’t easy, and it was fraught with all kind of obstacles. But at least we were home. Our custodial crew, however, didn’t have that luxury. They continued to show up every single day to clean for the students and colleagues who remained on our campuses.

And, like the rest of us, they had families they worried about, children who needed care or supervision with online school, loved ones whose jobs were suddenly less secure.

Some custodial staff self-quarantined after working their shift because they were afraid they would expose their families at home to the virus. Others worked every day on campus and also were caregivers to elderly family members.

Life didn’t get any easier for them when students returned last fall.

The custodial staff worked in pods – or small groups – for the entire year. The idea being that each pod would avoid close contact with other pods and we could avoid having the entire department in quarantine at the same time.

Even that arrangement was challenging. There were times when up to six members of a team were in quarantine. The rest of the team quickly adjusted their schedules and picked up the pieces.

They worked extra hours. Residence hall and dining hall bathrooms needed to be cleaned twice a day, seven days a week. All of the custodians took turns working weekends, usually in teams of two to four. In addition to staggered shifts, some custodians worked split shifts to ensure that we had staff here in the evening hours around dinnertime.

The custodial staff was responsible for cleaning the student isolation and quarantine rooms, the bathrooms, and making sure the rooms were ready for the next students in quarantine or isolation.

When a student tested positive for COVID-19, custodians cleaned the restrooms in the hall where the student lived. They washed the bedding and towels in the isolation and quarantine rooms.

Because they don’t have their own offices like many of us do, they were required to wear masks unless working alone in a space. When they cleaned the quarantine and isolation rooms, they wore PPE – personal protective equipment – including full body gowns and face shields.

Their tasks were more difficult than we might imagine. They cleaned classrooms between every class, while still maintaining their regular duties. Cleaning bathrooms and stairwells while wearing masks was physically difficult.

Because our dining services used disposables for the entire year, there was a huge increase in the volume of trash in all of our buildings. Sometimes, their hands and arms would ache from constantly spraying disinfectant.

Our custodial staff deserves our gratitude and recognition every day, every year. But we would be remiss if we did not thank them – profoundly and wholeheartedly – for their service and dedication for these past 17 months.

This is the sixth year for the Garber award. Chris Garber, for whom this award is named, was in charge of the Physical Plant when he died in 2015. The custodial team was his team. He respected what they do. And he cared about them as individuals. I know he would approve wholeheartedly of awarding the entire MU custodial staff with the 2021 Garber Staff Member of the Year Award.

Please join me in congratulating and thanking every member.