Some people can make lemonade out of lemons; Maria Pancamo is one of those people.
Pancamo has worked in the Indian Trail/Stallings area as a cashier/customer-service representative at a couple of stores. For the last five years, she has happily greeted customers at a local drugstore.
“We love Maria,” said Kim Yarbor, a co-worker and shift supervisor. “She’s got style and grace and compassion.”
Every day, Pancamo tries to make co-workers and customers smile. Years ago, one of her managers nicknamed her “Sunshine” because of her bright personality, and the name stuck: Her nametag even reads “Maria Sunshine.”
She lives close to work and goes home at lunch to pray for each customer and co-worker. “I want people to see God,” she said. “You have to love what you do and have passion.”
Pancamo’s positive attitude never wavers, though her path has not been easy.
Originally from New Jersey, she moved to Puerto Rico with her family when she was 4 years old. After spending her childhood in Puerto Rico, she graduated from high school and came to the U.S. to live. “I love America,” Pancamo said.
Pancamo said she had studied English and got a “D,” and could speak only Spanish when she arrived in the U.S.
So when she met her husband, Michael, who was Italian but spoke only English, it took them a while to communicate.
After they married, the couple lived and worked in the New York-New Jersey area. She could walk or ride a cab to and from her job at a local pharmacy, where she worked for 15 years; she never needed to get a driver’s license.
They moved with their two sons, Michael and Matthew – she refers to them as her M&Ms – to North Carolina to be near her husband’s family.
They had dreamed for years of owning their home, and five years ago that dream came true; they moved into their Matthews home, and Maria Pancamo started work nearby, still not needing to drive.
Unfortunately, about that time, her husband was diagnosed with cancer. Knowing she would have two sons to raise by herself, Pancamo studied to get her driver’s license.
“My sons teased me,” she said. “I got my license so late in life.”
As soon as she found out she had passed the test the first time, she cried. It was an emotional time.
But, she said, God always had a plan.
“God gave me the strength to keep going. Michael was my everything,” Pancoma said.
“My angels watch over me. My faith got stronger.”
Pancamo had lost her father 11 years ago to Lou Gherig’s disease, so she counts her father as one of her angels and feels she got her personality and positive attitude from him.
Her connection to others is genuine. One customer opened up to her by explaining how sick her dog was and how upset she was.
Another customer, Vigil Dial, made Pancamo a wooden cross statue with Jeremiah 29:11 etched in the wood – her favorite Bible verse.
The verse reads: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Dial also made her a cross necklace she wears every day.
“She is so sweet,” said Anne Peshel of Stallings said of Pancamo. “She is always so helpful and professional.”
When she isn’t working, she loves using coupons. Last year, she said, she saved $2,900 by using coupons.
Friends follow her on Facebook to get tips, and the practice helps her take care of her sons, now 18 and 16 years old.
“I’m very proud of my boys,” she said.