A day in the life: On shift with the Marketplace’s Jenny Mendoza

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Marketplace worker Jenny Mendoza poses on the academic quad at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Sept. 8, 2021. Leo Blain/The Occidental

11:30 a.m.

On a typical day, Jenny Mendoza, known to students as simply “Jenny,” arrives for a long shift at the Marketplace as a cashier. Jenny gets to work checking out an already hectic line of students when the lunch crowd forms around 11:30 a.m.

“It’s busy,” Jenny said. “I come in straight to the rush.”

According to Jenny, the Marketplace gets three rushes a day on weekdays. This is normal, she said, except the Marketplace usually has more staff. Jenny said she is currently one of two full-time cashiers at the Marketplace, and that there used to be about seven cashiers.

“Right now, we’re so short on staff that it’s really stressful. There are [times] when we’re working six days, 10–12 hours a day,” Jenny said.

Jenny said she has worked at Occidental for 17 years and has encountered many different employees over the years. Elva Solorzano, a newly hired part-time cashier, said that she likes working with Jenny.

“She’s really friendly. When I have questions, she’s quick to answer,” said Solorzano.

Fellow worker Homer Umaguing, who also works at the Marketplace, said Jenny livens up the job.

“Jenny, she’s the one. She always goes behind me and tries to scare me, or, you know, plays loud music when I’m doing something,” Umaguing said. “She always laughs and makes everything fun.”

Jessica Escalante, a cook who works in the Tiger Cooler, referred to Jenny as a great person.

“I’ve known her for 15 years,” Escalante said. “Jenny’s very friendly. She’s always smiling. She makes fun of my pants all the time. She’s usually making [people] laugh.”

Jenny Mendoza checks out a student at the Marketplace at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Sept. 8, 2021. Leo Blain/The Occidental

1:30 p.m.

After two hours, Jenny gets her first of three breaks.

“She’s full time, so she gets the two 15-minute breaks and the 30-minute break,” Solorzano said.

The cashiers’ breaks are fully dependent on the rush for that particular day.

“My break used to be at 1 p.m., and then I changed it,” Jenny said. “I go a little after 1:30 because it’s so busy and I don’t want to leave them alone, all backed up.”

“After four or five hours, you take your lunch,” Umaguing said.

Jenny said her favorite part of the job is the students, a sentiment that is shared by the rest of the dining staff.

“We’re like their second family,” Escalante said. “They’re all our priority.”

That attitude is reciprocated by the students, according to Escalante.

“All the kids love her. I don’t think there’s one person that doesn’t know Jenny,” Escalante said.

Students had only positive stories to share about Jenny.

Nick Graves (junior) said that he has followed Jenny on social media and respects her constant positivity.

“She knows the most people, most names,” Graves said. “She’s genuine.”

The daily jobs in the Marketplace have been affected by the pandemic, according to Jenny. The lines used to move faster, she said, before non-contact safety protocols went into effect. She noted that students have some difficulty swiping their own ID cards to pay for food, which used to be a job performed by cashiers.

“It would go by quicker when it was us [swiping],” Jenny said. “It is rare that you get a person that [swipes] the first time. But I have patience, so that’s a good thing.”

As a full-time employee, Jenny’s shift is from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Many of the other staff members work similar hours.

Jenny Mendoza cleans a checkout station in the Marketplace at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Sept. 8, 2021. Leo Blain/The Occidental

7:30 p.m.

At 7:30 p.m., when the Marketplace closes, the dining staff’s jobs continue, according to Jenny.

“At the end, we have to feed whoever comes in. As soon as we close, we have to break down everything, clean, sanitize and put everything back to normal,” Jenny said. “I have to wash the coffee pots, the cereal, basically everything inside. When we are short on staff, I’m doing that and then I’m helping clean in [the dining hall] too.”

Jenny said that cleaning typically takes about 40 minutes but sometimes more, especially if the Marketplace was busy that night.

“Since it’s so backed up it’s hard,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I don’t see the end of the line.”

After 8:00 p.m.

When she’s finished cleaning, Jenny said that she unwinds by going out to eat or watching a movie. Her favorite movies are probably Lifetime movies and she also enjoys “NCIS” and “Law and Order.”

After unwinding, Jenny resets for the next day. When ordering next, make sure to say hello, thank the staff for their hard work and clean up after yourself. And make sure you swipe your card correctly the first time, or Jenny might laugh at you.