IWU’s cherished and beloved Sodexo mom, ‘Mamacita’

By Farah Bassyouni Mar 25, 2022
Photo provided by: Elizabeth Maldonado Elizabeth “Mamacita” Maldonado with her two daughters
Elizabeth “Mamacita” Maldano with her two daughters Photo provided by: Elizabeth Maldonado

At exactly 11 a.m, when the Saga doors open, there is one thing an Illinois Wesleyan student can always expect, aside from the fresh smell of lunch hour or a long line forming on the stairs. It’s “Mamacita,” whose warm and comforting smile in the morning greets students with all the positivity they could ever need to get through the day. 

Elizabeth Maldonado, known to students as “Mamacita,” is one of Sodexo’s most appreciated workers. She is almost always at the front desk helping students swipe in. 

 Food service supervisor Greg Overfelt said: “Everybody loves Elizabeth. She’s warm and bubbly and very proud to be Puerto Rican.”

“She’s always telling me she’s glad people like us Latinos are continuing our education and making our immigrant families proud,” first-year student Yuri Colindres said. “She definitely makes me feel better about using my language and reminds me of why it’s so important to cherish my opportunities – not everyone is fortunate enough,” she said. 

Mamacita has been working at Illinois Wesleyan for almost 30 years. She said she got the name “Mamacita” from her son’s friend, who told her she reminded him of his own mother who passed away when he was younger. 

When asked if she’s aware of how loved she is, Mamacita  said, “I don’t know Mamita, I’m trying to figure that out – but they tell me I’m like their mother, I remind them of home. I feel special.” 

“Every time I go to Saga to get food, she’s always there to greet me in Spanish and that really brings me back home,” Colindres said.

If you ever hear Spanish in Saga, it’s probably Mamacita making someone laugh. You will hear nothing but love for Mamacita, especially from the large Latinx community at Illinois Wesleyan. 

Mamacita said she never went to college, and being at Illinois Wesleyan makes her feel like she hasn’t missed out on the college dream experience too much. 

It’s not an uncommon sight for Mamacita’s daughter, who lives nearby, to bring Mamacita’s grandchildren over after hours, where her favorite students spend time with her family. Mamacita said she’s looking forward to celebrating her grandson’s birthday next week. 

“I feel like I have my own kids here, close to me and I’m proud.  I’m proud of myself and proud of you guys here – you gotta make Mommy and Daddy proud, and tell them, ‘ Mom and Dad, I made it’. Do the right thing for yourself and don’t get in trouble, stay away from negativity,” Mamacita said. 

How does she manage to stay so optimistic and cheerful?  Mamacita, without a second of hesitation, enthusiastically responded, “I don’t know, it’s probably that Puerto Rican blood I got in me. I just have a lot of fun, and I enjoy my job and having you guys here every day.” 

Probably the most loved thing about Mamacita is the close and consistent connections she makes with everyone she encounters. Mid-conversation, Mamacita pointed to a long table behind us, busy with student athletes eating their lunch and said, “That’s my whole crew right there! Those are all my sons.” 

Whenever she can, Mamacita often takes on the responsibility of doing the decorating in Saga and giving out as much candy as she can to the students. Whether it’s Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas or just a mundane Monday morning, Mamacita’s got the crafts and the sweets to celebrate. 

“You better not leave here without a candy!” she said, gesturing toward the front desk overflowing with candy that she re-supplies. 

And during the Friday lunch hour? Catch Mamacita and Timmy Burhouse, a first-year musical theater student, ‘boogieing’ it up to some ABBA. 

“She really makes my day. She and I started this thing a while back where every Friday I come play a song on my phone and we have a little dance party right there,” Burhouse said. 

Last week it was “Dancing Queen,” and Mamacita, the students’ Sodexo Mom, was having the time of her life. 

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