Meeting workers at Fordham
By Elaina Weber
Maria Alvar is a caterer, a caregiver, a manager, a custodial worker, a nanny, a medical assistant, a factory worker, a mentor to teen girls, a wife, and, above all, a mother. But this year, she is a cashier. During the evenings, she can be found wearing an apron and a large smile behind the counter in a small sandwich shop on Fordham University’s campus, asking how everyone’s day has been and calling each student “baby.”
This job is relatively simple in comparison to the others she has worked. She has served as the lone translator from Dutch to English at a factory, and without Maria, her manager could never have communicated to her coworkers on the line. Maria also served as the manager of factory workers on a similar line, who grew to anticipate her every need and work hard for her approval. At one time, in Holland, she used her diploma in catering to become a manager at a catering company, where she was in charge of managing the staff, making orders, organizing events, all aspects of customer service, and new employee hiring and training. She was the first line of defense in any type of last-minute glitch in plans, and she recalled “running everywhere” on the job, the only expert on the scene. She felt important in these jobs.
“The [catering] job is the most perfect job I did in my whole life,” she recalled, “because they really needed me. Every day.”
But Maria was quick to say her job here behind the register is just as important as any other she has ever worked. She remembers one day on this job as the day she felt more important than any other.
“A boy came in with a face, you know, a sad face. Long and tired, with troubled eyes. I knew he was troubled, but he didn’t say anything about it when I asked how his day is. But I could tell it was schoolwork that was getting him down. So I say to him, ‘Baby, if you don’t want to work with your hands, you have to use your brain.’
“And then the most amazing thing happened on his lips. A smile, and I thought, I did that! He said thanks, mommy, and he said he felt better.”
Born in the Philippines, Maria moved with her mother to her stepfather’s home in Holland when she was 17, where she lived until 4 years ago.
“My [second] husband brought me to the United States to marry me,” she said, smiling, “and, yes, it has been love ever since.”
Maria is as much a mother to her husband as she is to her coworkers, and as much of a caregiver to strangers and as she is to her own children.
“People need people,” she said, “and I do too.”