If you frequent the dining hall Plaza 900, chances are you’ve been greeted by the smiling face of Sandy Cunningham, better known as simply “Sandy from Plaza.”
“Sandy greets every student that walks into Plaza with a smile — and without a doubt, her personality is just as radiant,” freshman Lucy Reis said. “She stops her work to have a conversation, and cares about what students are up to.”
Sandy is known for greeting students at Plaza 900 by asking them about their day. MU students Ben Schnelle and Catherine Hoffman took the time to ask Sandy about her life instead — specifically what she wanted for Christmas.
“Initially we asked her, and she was so modest she wouldn’t even give an answer,” Schnelle said.
Eventually, she gave an answer that did not cater to herself at all. Sandy wanted gift cards so that she could buy gifts for her grandchildren.
“Pretty much every Mizzou student (past and present) knows and loves her, so I just thought it would be great to do something special for her,” Hoffman said in a text message.
Schnelle shared Sandy’s answer in a group chat, and several other students, including Joe Davis, Chase O’Neal and Zack Reader, collaborated on the idea of a GoFundMe page to raise money for Sandy.
The original goal of the campaign on GoFundMe, an online crowdfunding platform used to raise money for various types of events, was to raise $500 by winter break to buy gift cards from department stores for Sandy to purchase presents.
The fundraiser was shared on Facebook around 2:15 p.m., and it quickly went viral among the MU community. Within 45 minutes, the $500 was raised as students poured in their support for Sandy.
“I think the thing I appreciate the most is the consistency of happiness that she brings,” campaign co-founder Zack Reader said. “She caters to a lot of freshmen, with the nature of freshmen being so up and down, her endless willingness to serve and encourage through her role means more to us than she will ever know. And that’s the exact reason we took the initiative to pay it back to her.”
Donations exceeded $3,000 within three hours. By 11 a.m. Friday, $5,112 had been donated by 607 people, and the link had been shared over 7,700 times.
The students behind the campaign did not necessarily anticipate its rapid growth.
“This action was no doubt inspired by the incredible amount of gratitude we feel towards faculty and staff throughout the entirety of campus,” Schnelle said. “We were just so moved by Sandy’s selflessness that we started this project without considering the magnitude it might reach and any unplanned implications it may have.”
When Sandy ultimately found out about the page, she decided to instead donate the thousands of dollars given to her back to the community.
In a statement released a few hours after creating the fundraiser, Davis, O’Neal, Reader and Schnelle expressed their gratitude to the MU community and explained that Sandy had chosen to transfer the GoFundMe donations to MizzouThon, the largest student-run philanthropy at MU. MizzouThon raises money for the MU Women’s and Children’s Hospital through events all year, most notably the 13.1-hour dance marathon in the spring.
“After overwhelming support from the Mizzou community and its students, Sandy has decided to donate all the money to MizzouThon because of her love for the Children’s Miracle Network,” they said in the statement.
On Monday, Dec. 5,, the fundraiser will close, and a check will be presented to MizzouThon on Sandy’s behalf.
In the meantime, both donations and students’ positive thoughts of Sandy continue to flow steadily.
The campaign founders encouraged students to keep donating to the page for MizzouThon “in the spirit of Sandy.”
“Sandy puts a smile on my face every time I go to Plaza, and I'm sure she makes her grandkids even happier,” freshman Adam Treutelaar said. “The least I can do is spend as much as I'd spend on a meal swipe to help her do that.”
Edited by Allyson Vasilopulos and Nancy Coleman | firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com