An employee on leave from the Waynedale Kroger Food Store is suffering from Stage 4 cancer. It began in his pancreas and has started to spread to his liver and intestines. He has received more than $6,000 in donations from the store’s customers, thanks to a crowdfunding campaign.
Juan “John” Briones started working at the local Krogers more than a decade ago and is well known by the Waynedale community for his work ethic and dedication to his customers.
Margie Diehl is both Juan’s boss and the front-end supervisor at the big-box grocery store. “He’s a great guy,” says Diehl, who added “Juan over-extends himself putting the customers first…the customers are his family.”
Patrick Kohne is the store manager and notes Juan is an excellent employee trusted to handle the U-Scan check lanes. “He’s one of the better ones,” says Kohne of Juan’s skill at multi-tasking making sure the shopping experience for customers who self-checkout, is a smooth experience.
Stephanie Hartman is the store’s HR manager. “Juan will come in sick, he doesn’t miss work.” Hartman says Juan’s excellent communication skills are the reason he makes customers feel at home and keep them coming back to the store. “Juan communicates with everyone, including the children.”
Diehl, Kohne and Hartman all say Juan outsells his fellow cashiers every time the store does a benefit for a local charity. Whenever a customer comes through a lane during a benefit, cashiers will ask if they want to donate a few dollars to charities like Riley Children’s Hospital, the American Cancer Society or the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. “Juan routinely convinces 700-1,000 customers to donate to these worthy causes, outpacing all the other cashiers by leaps and bounds,” says Diehl. Kohne, the store manager, added that, “Juan has raised thousands of dollars for local charities.”
Committed to local charities, Juan has urged his fellow cashiers to keep the donations rolling in during his absence.
Juan’s recently diagnosed cancer has brought an outpouring concern from his customers and the employees at the Waynedale grocery. They are signing get-well cards at the store, donating money at the customer service desk and raising funds through an internet crowdfunding platform so that Juan can be transported to Texas where he can be near family. Customers have come to the service desk and donated almost $2,000 and the gofundme.com site has raised almost $5,000 from 177 people in the last seven days.
“I think it’s tremendous the store and its customers have done this for Juan and his family. Maybe it’s unusual for customers to bond with employees like this,” says Kohne. But, Hartman, the HR manager made it clear, “this is what happens in Waynedale. We take care of each other.”
When word of Juan’s illness started to filter through the community, Kroger customers like Pam Wuellner-Wolfe, were touched and remembered all their interactions with Juan in recent years. Wolfe lived in Waynedale for 29 years before selling her house and moving to a lake home near Columbia City after her husband passed away.
“I used to see Juan riding his bicycle on Bluffton Road, he wasn’t wearing any lights or reflectors, so I got him some,” says Wolfe. Wolfe frequently went through Juan’s check-out lane. “Juan could tell me within a few dollars how much I was going to spend each trip while he was ringing up my groceries and he was never wrong. Juan knew his job and the store so well he could make educated guesses,” says Wolfe. Wolfe also added Juan knew a lot of recipes. “Every time I went through his lane he’d look at all of my groceries and shared recipes with me about what I could make based on what I was buying.”
Wolfe, like many in Waynedale, are upset Juan isn’t feeling well and hopes his family can raise enough money to send him back to Texas or pay for his family to travel to Fort Wayne to visit him. If you are interested in visiting Juan, please contact the Kroger Store in Waynedale at 260-747-4161. If you want to donate to the gofundme.com site, point your browser to the link and search the site for “Juans Medical Expenses.”
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