By Julie Kayzerman
When Eve Cruz opened a card from one of her “kids,” she cried.
“Eve, I don’t even come to Eick for the food anymore,” it read. “I come to see you.”
The 40-year-old Sodexo cashier greets students as they walk into the dining hall at the College with bits of inspiration, wacky jokes and a huge grin across her face.
“One more day girls and boys, we got this,” she says with a smile.
We. It’s always “we” for Cruz, because during her seven years working at the College, she’s developed a love for her students, who she refers to as her kids.
“It’s about the College. I could’ve left this job, but I don’t because I’ve bonded with the kids,” Cruz said. “I’m not there for the money, I’m there for my kids. We have a bond now.”
With a line of hungry students walking into the Atrium of Eickhoff Hall in between stressful classes, they know they can count on Cruz to brighten their day. And Cruz says she can always count on them to brighten hers.
Sometimes putting on a funny hat or wig, Cruz will cook up a plan to make her students happy. She even brought out a fake mustache to wear for No Shave November.
“Ya’ll are so awesome, you make my day,” she said. “Ya’ll say I make your day just by getting you in and getting you through the week. Well we do the same for each other.”
Although Cruz’s job with Sodexo pays &8.85 an hour, Cruz wouldn’t know — she doesn’t pay attention to the money. To her, that’s not what the job is about. Instead, greeting every student with a smile and words of encouragement, Cruz explained that her true job is to get her “kids” through the day by spreading positive energy.
“That’s the top priority for me,” she said. “We’re a team in here.”
Cruz worked at a Sunoco gas station in New York before coming to the College. One day, she ran into her childhood friend, Terrek Johnson – affectionately known to her as Bunks – who was working for Sodexo at the College. Johnson encouraged Cruz to come work there, and after beginning on Oct. 23, 2007, it became clear that the decision would change her life.
“Before y’all, I didn’t really have a life,” Cruz said.
Currently residing in Trenton, Cruz is the mother of her 13-year-old son, Mikey, who stays with her Aunt throughout the week so he can attend a good school and stay off the streets. But while she misses Mikey during the week, she knows she has over 6,000 other kids who provide her with happiness.
But it’s really Cruz who seems to give those 6,000 students the extra push to get through the day.
“She’ll manage to put a smile on my face by the little things she says,” junior accounting major Katie Padmore said. “You can never tell if she’s having a bad day, which is a great quality that I admire her for.”
Spreading positive vibes
Dressed in the Sodexo attire, black pants and a navy shirt with a name tag fastened loosely on, Cruz stands at the entrance of Eickhoff Hall, swiping in students one-by-one, addressing each of them by their name as it pops up onto her screen.
With her constant energy, Cruz has become a household name at the College, famous all across campus for her joyous attitude and positive embrace.
“She treats us like her kids, and it’s obvious that she cares about us, which is always a nice feeling,” Padmore said.
But Cruz says she gets the strength to stay positive from seeing the reactions of her kids. Together, Cruz and her kids get through the day, feeding off one another for support during a tough day or a laugh to brighten up an already good one.
“She’s made an impression on me since the first time I met her,” Padmore said. “To put it very simply, she always has a smile on her face, and when you have a rough week, she’s always greeting you saying ‘cheer up, the week’s almost over.’”
Cruz’s whole mentality on life is to spread positivity. While she doesn’t come from a background of wealth, she gets up every day knowing that she is rich in life.
“I try to tell people when you come in to work, bring in your positive energy because that reflects off of people,” Cruz said. “Y’all need that.”
Family away from home
As typical students spend their college careers living on campus and away from home, they can have waves of loneliness and homesickness. But Cruz is determined to minimize those negative feelings as much as possible. She sets her mind to attend several student events on and off campus to show her support for what her kids are participating in.
“I love when y’all invite me to events because then I get to come there and support y’all,” she said. “Sometimes family can’t make it out and you need somebody to give y’all some support and show that y’all are doing a great job.”
Cruz was seen at several different events this past semester, supporting athletic teams in the bleachers, attending Greek Life events on and off-campus and staying extra hours at the College to take part in activities.
And of course, taking a picture with her seems to be the main attraction, as always.
“I love to see y’all do the positive stuff you do,” Cruz said. “You’re doing a great job and soon you’ll be changing the world. It just makes me smile when I see you guys coming in smiling.”
A Helping Hand
Cruz is a glass half-full kind of person. Her positive attitude is natural, though, as she always looks to help others – and not for any other reason than it makes her happy to see others smile.
As Cruz doesn’t even pay attention to the amount of money she makes, it’s obvious she doesn’t care about the material things. This was clear more than ever on Halloween when she bought $300 worth of candy out of her own pocket for students to take as they walked in and out of Eickhoff.
“I love to give because people need,” Cruz said. “You never really know what a person’s situation is. Sometimes you might give even when you don’t have it, but you’ll get it another manner. As long as I see that somebody is happy, I’ll give them the shirt off my back if I gotta because I got plenty more shirts at home.”
For Cruz, helping people allows her to leave work knowing that she made someone happy — and that’s all she needs to get through the day.
Cruz has grown attached to her students, seeing them through their entire college careers. While it’s obvious that students across campus know and love the famous Eve Cruz, she, herself likes to show her kids how much they mean to her.
She receives several cards and pictures from students throughout the year who want to thank her for being a consistently positive source for them over the course of their stressful college years. In fact, on the “Giving Thanks” billboard outside of the Brower Student Center that encouraged students to write what they are thankful for, a student wrote “Eve.”
The relationship of Cruz and her students truly exemplifies a symbiotic relationship — the reason Cruz addresses the students with “we.” They go through the daily struggles of life and through the joyous moments together. But it’s always together, because once Cruz is in someone’s life, she’ll be there for them forever.
“Four years. I see y’all for four years,” she said. “We have four years together. We’re together more than we’re home.”
So with that, she makes sure to attend every graduation with the intent to see her kids off and encourage them to visit her back at the cashier booth in Eickhoff Hall — because she knows she’ll still be there when they come back.
“Five to 10 years from now, I’ll be here,” Cruz said. “This is my last stop, no more jobs after this.”
And her kids wouldn’t have it any other way.