Eighty-two students have joined the Facebook group recognizing the warm disposition and vocation of Mary "the cookie elf" Barnhardt, known since the holiday season as the server of Letchworth Dining Hall's freshly-baked cookies, which have become a weekly tradition throughout the past semester.
Originally from Perry, N.Y., Barnhardt has worked on and off at Geneseo since 1982 between various part-time jobs. Since 2002, she has worked full-time as a cook and assistant to the head cook in Letchworth, and she serves as head cook on weekends. All of the cooking for Millennium Market and Letchworth Dining Center takes place upstairs, and although warm chocolate-chip cookies have become a crowd favorite, Barnhardt and her fellow cooks are responsible for everything on the menu.
Although busy days can make it challenging to keep up, the rewarding outcome of her hard work keeps Barnhardt motivated. A fine example, she said, is the first time she donned her elf hat and went around to tables with trays of warm cookies.
"I love how friendly and polite students are," she said, "and how excited they become when they see the cookies."
Every Thursday since, Barnhardt said, groups wait by the door to the side entrance, where she brings out tray after tray of the warm treat, greeting each of them with a smile that has since formed her reputation among students.
According to junior Lisa Bonanni, founder of the Facebook group entitled "I Love Mary, the 'Cookie Elf' at Letch!", "Sometimes she's wearing a visor, other times she's wearing an elf hat. Regardless, Mary always makes me smile with her kindness and her cookies of awesomeness."
Barnhardt loves everything about her work in the dining hall, from interactions with students to teamwork with colleagues, but her role as cookie elf is now among her favorite aspects of the job.
"The smiles on the kids' faces when I give them their cookies shows that they really, really enjoy it, and I enjoy that," she said.
While she takes care of baking and serving these cookies, she credits fellow employee Amy Fox for making the batter and helping her out.
Barnhardt's four children live around the country and she considers herself fortunate to have a number of grandchildren as well. In Geneseo, the help of her employers and the enthusiasm of her customers keep her passionate about her work and proud of her reputation.