The sweet smell of fresh-baked cookies permeates the air as a group of students file through the doors of Cheatham Dining Hall. They grin as they recognize the distinct aroma of chocolate chips.
Tucked behind the counter of the dining hall’s specialty coffee and dessert bar, Peggy Gammon rushes to meet the demand. Trays covered with nuggets of dough go into the oven. When the oven timer emits a loud buzz, students, faculty, and staff scurry to the counter. They line up, plates held out, waiting for the fresh-from-the-oven cookies. In minutes, all that is left from that batch are crumbs.
“It’s heaven on a plate,” said Tory Brown ’13, of Fredericksburg. “Somehow, she gets them right every time. When I smell those cookies, I run over here while they are still warm.”
Gammon goes through at least 27 dozen cookies on “Cookie Day,” which is usually held on Friday. “I never have any left,” she said smiling. “They love them so much, and they love having them right out of the oven, so I do my best to time them that way.”
She starts the first batch about 11 a.m. and does not stop until about 1:15 p.m. In between trays, she rushes around filling coffee orders, keeping the other desserts stocked, and cleaning her station—always with a warm smile.
Gammon is also a barista. Hot and iced beverages, such as cappuccinos, lattes, and mochas, are included in the College’s meal price. The dessert and coffee bar was added to the dining hall several years ago.
“I feel like their grandmother sometimes,” Gammon said. “I try to give them their favorites and get to know them. It just adds a special touch, and I think it reminds them of home. It makes me feel good to be able to do that for them.”
For some students, a simple cookie can make a huge difference. “When you’ve had a really bad day, and you come into the dining hall and smell your favorite cookies, how can you not feel better?” said Nashiva McDavid ’12 as she piled a plate full of warm cookies. “Cookie Day is a day to be happy. You can’t help but smile.”
The dining hall features a variety of desserts each day during the week, in addition to its line of specialty coffees and teas. Many students like the chance to top off a meal with a specialty drink. Holly Gerlach ’12 gets a mocha cappuccino when she has time before classes. “Instead of paying $5 at Starbucks or somewhere, you get it for free with your meal. Not many places offer that.”
She loves all the cookies—and appreciates that Gammon seems to care about students. “It gives you such a homey feeling,” Gerlach said. “She doesn’t just make cookies. She is as sweet as they come. She notices if you are having a bad day or a good day, and you can talk to her. It’s kind of like having your mom bake you cookies.”
For Gammon, the smiles and relationships she has been able to form with students make the extra effort worth it.
“I’m tired when I go home,” Gammon said. “But I do it because it seems to make a difference to the students. I just love my job.”