The Worm Lady

The Worm Lady

They calculated it, and at the end, they said I packaged over 5 million mealworms. — SU student Dottie Brill
Published: May 7, 2021 | Updated: September 30th, 2022 at 4:37 pm

COVID in the Community series: The Worm Lady
Syracuse University student Dottie Brill

I was abroad in Florence, Italy, when the pandemic hit. We suddenly had 48 hours to get out of the country, so I had to go live in my small hometown in Pennsylvania with my parents.

I had no job. Then, about halfway through the pandemic, my dad was telling his buddy about how I didn’t have a job, and he said, “Oh, well, I actually run a bug farm and I need people to package the worms that we breed.”

Off the bat, I’m like, “No f—— way am I going to work at a bug farm.” But I started making jokes about it with my family and friends, and it got to the point where I had dug myself into a hole. I had joked about it so much, everybody was expecting me to go work at the damned bug farm.

I told my dad I would give it a day.

On my first day, the guy that runs the farm, Mack, a real sweetheart, takes me down to “the dungeon;” it’s me and seven older men, and all we did all day was package buckets of mealworms. I have a pretty strong stomach, but even I was a little in over my head.

Alternative Text
Brill’s “one in a million” worm.

But these guys were all so nice. They’d include me in conversations about Stephen King and video games and everything else. At the end of the day all the guys — now my buddies — came together and got me a switchblade. That was their gift to me for getting through the day.

The rest of the days were pretty cool. We would get in at 8 a.m. and would stand at these desks set up in rows. They would bring enormous bins of mealworms over and we would have gloves up to our elbows just scooping and packing packaging them.

They calculated it, and at the end, they said I packaged over 5 million mealworms.

I was one of six or seven girls out of 100 employees, and all the other women worked on the crickets. I was a mealworm gal. They would be together on lunch breaks eating their salads and I was smoking cigarettes with a 65-year-old man who packaged mealworms.

I really loved my coworkers, but I made sure not to ask about politics because I think that’s where we would have disagreed. But everyone did wear masks, and we had to wear huge fumigation masks, anyway. So I never felt unsafe.

On my last day, they gave me a little container with one of their rarest species of mealworms. Now, I have a worm that is one in a million.

COVID in the Community

COVID in the Community

This as-told-to interview is part of COVID in the Community, a series created by students in the Reporting classes at the Newhouse School in Spring 2021. COVID in the Community documents the experiences of Syracuse area residents living through this extraordinary time.