It takes a lot of effort to keep a campus as big as U of T running smoothly. Behind the scenes, staff members work hard every day to provide essential services to students and faculty.
Meet Minora Coutinho, a member of the University College cafeteria staff. She works Tuesday to Saturday at the Morrison Hall cafeteria to keep UC students well-fed to tackle their long school days.
Cafeteria work is far from easy, but Coutinho’s cheerful disposition is contagious. She makes sure to greet her job and everyone she meets with a big smile.
Seven years ago, an internet job search led her to her current position. In her native India, she specialized in wedding cake design, giving her great preparation for the culinary job.
Most of the time, Coutinho works at the cafeteria’s hot table. On Saturdays, she assists the chef with food preparation.
A dedicated Catholic and philanthropist, Coutinho is active in her church where she volunteers her wedding cake design skills and provides communion to senior citizens in their homes on Sundays.
Before coming to Canada, she was a volunteer in Bombay, India. She worked with Mother Theresa to provide poverty relief services, an experience she says affected her very deeply.
“Mother Theresa was such a powerful, amazing person,” she says. “When she gave me her blessing it was a very special moment for me.”
She also met Pope John Paul II when he travelled to India in 1985. Her meetings with both figures convinced her of the need to continue their philanthropic work.
“I would like to continue to do volunteer work in India,” she says. “My heart goes out to all of the poor children there, I want to do something.”
Despite the demands of her job, Coutinho enjoys interacting with students on a daily basis.
“I love working with the students,” she says. “They are always smiling and are so nice. I love talking with them and seeing them everyday.”
Coutinho has formed meaningful relationships with UC students over the years. Many bring her cards and presents during the holidays, and some even return for visits after graduation.
“Just today, a student came back from out of town to visit and surprised me with a hug. It is always so nice when students remember us after they’ve graduated,” she says.
When she isn’t working hard in UC, Coutinho, a single mother, devotes her time to her daughter, 16, son, 15, and her 85-year-old mother.
Like most full-time cafeteria employees, she goes on vacation for three months each summer. Coutinho prefers to spend her downtime camping and at the cottage with her loved ones.
Life in Canada has not been easy, Coutinho admits. However, she works hard every day to help her kids through school.
“Canada is not home, and I have gone through a lot of hardships here,” she said. “But I always make sure I am wearing a smile!”
As much as she enjoys her work and values her relationships with UC students, she doesn’t plan on remaining in Canada forever. Ultimately, her true calling is community service.
“Right now, I just work and live for my kids. When they can stand on their own feet, I will go back to India,” says Coutinho, talking about future plans. “I just want to go and continue Mother Theresa’s work there.”