Dining hall staff share stories of hardship, passion for students

BROOKE CHRISTENSON

bjchristenson14@ole.augie.edu

Entering the Morrison Commons, students are greeted by Ana Campos’ smile and, “How are you, sweetie?”

Behind the meals served to more than a 1,000 students each day are servers who, like Campos, take pride in their job.

Campos stands behind the register at 5 feet 2 inches wearing a blue-collared shirt, black pants and an apron covered in peanut butter. She is the first person that most students interact with in the Commons, junior Paige Peterson among them.

Peterson enters the Commons with food on her mind after basketball practice. Peterson said Campos reminds her of family or even a mother figure.

“When she asks me how I am doing, I know she truly means it,” Peterson said.

Campos never lets a student sneak by her register, regardless of how hungry they are. She makes them wait, taking time to greet students and discuss how their day is going. Campos never fails to wish Peterson good luck on game day.

“I truly look forward to coming to my job every single day,” Campos said. “Not just because the environment is clean and enjoyable, but I get to hang with my second family all day.”

Campos has worked at Sodexo for three years. She moved to the United States 30 years ago after making the journey from El Salvador with her two sisters. Campos’ mother sent the three girls away from their home because of conflicts in the country.

“I was content with my 16-year-old life at the time,” Campos said. “My job was to pick cotton, and I was actually very happy.”

Commons cook Sonia Rodriguez had a similar experience growing up.

Rodriguez came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1980 because of war. She giggles when thinking of the contents of her resume.

“I picked coffee beans, painted, welded or anything I could be of use for, but when I arrived in Los Angeles, I became a server,” Rodriguez said.

While some Sodexo employees like Campos are more familiar to students because they work in the serving lines or swipe cards, Rodriguez can be found in the back of the Commons helping with food prep, such as creating her speciality pasta salads. Students taste Rodriguez’s secret recipe every day at the salad bar.

Although she never planned to be a cook growing up, her fate changed in   California when Rodriguez filled in for another employee at Al’s Diner off Sunset Boulevard. Standing behind the grill sweating in the hot and humid summer weather, Rodriguez’s cooking skills improved. Today, her culinary knowledge makes her “among the best,” Sodexo dining manager Glen Elder said.

Community and relationships are both reasons why Rodriguez appreciates working at Sodexo. These are aspects Elder said he hopes to foster among his employees.

“We promote relationships with students and faculty, so we can display the best business,” Elder said.

Back at the register, Campos swipes the ID card of another impatient, hungry student, one of the many she calls her “hunnies.”

“I get to treat each and every single one with all my heart,” she said.

Campos takes pride in her work. She keeps the creamy peanut butter container full for students and wipes crumbs off the counters. To others, Campos’ job may seem minor, but it’s her way to care for others.

“Although my job is not the most sophisticated and classified as white collar, I am very appreciative with the opportunity here at Augustana, and I want people to know and understand that,” Campos said.

Rodriguez agrees.

“Not only does it pay the bills,” she said, “but it gives me an environment where my passion can shine.”