Sandra Patterson’s hugs are famous across campus.
A cashier at Snelling Dining Commons, she gives everyone who comes through her turnstile a big smile, an enthusiastic greeting and a hug. She greets students by name and asks them about their classes and their day. She’ll even call out to wish them luck on their tests as they leave.
Her hugs are so renowned there’s even a Facebook fan page set up for her. There students share their stories about how her hug can brighten any day.
“You could wake up for your 8 a.m. class, find out you failed your test, pick up a newspaper only to find [out about] HOPE scholarship cuts, trip on your way to breakfast scraping your knee, and a Ms. Sandra hug will make it all better,” Ben Coffee, a May graduate from Atlanta, wrote on the page.
Officially Patterson’s responsibilities are to the customers of Snelling Dining Commons: to greet them, to take payment for meals, to keep the entrance clean and to check the menus. But to her, hugs are part of customer service—something she can do to make the students happy.
“Sandra’s warm smile and hugs give every one of our customers that warm feeling that they are coming in to dine with their friends and their extended family here at the university,” said Michael Floyd, executive director of Food Services.
Patterson describes herself as a “fill-in mom” for all the students away from home.
“When I’m here I feel like this is my family,” said Patterson, who was the eighth of 10 daughters. So a big family is something to which she always has been connected.
“I always check and make sure they’re going to class, check on their grades,” she said. “They get upset about their tests. They come and share that with me.”
They tell her if they’re having a rough time.
“Sometimes they actually come here in tears,” she said “And I have to hug ’em and let ’em know it’s gonna be okay.”
And while she claims she spoils “her” kids, occasionally she also dishes out tough love. When students stop going to class, she has words for them.
“You’re here for a reason,” she tells them. “That reason is to go to class, and I want you in class.”
Years later, alumni still remember her and the difference she made.
Daniel Ivey, a 2006 alumnus, said he went to Snelling Dining Commons for the food—and for the “warm and comforting greeting that I received from Sandra each day.
“What I remember, is that I experienced a woman who knew my name and remembered what was going on in my life,” he said. “I felt like I was at home, away from home. Sandra made my experience at UGA feel like I had a mother or grandmother, even though I was away from home.”
Patterson received a customer service award from the Division of Finance and Administration in 2007, but says that she doesn’t worry about awards.
“They are my reward,” she said about the students she sees day-in and day-out.
Patterson gives out more than 2,000 hugs a day, but who gives the best hugs?
“All of them,” Patterson said. “They’re love hugs.”
But the football players can be a little too enthusiastic.
“Sometimes they hug me so tight they pick me up,” she said with a laugh. “And I have to tell them ‘put me down, boy.’ ”