Campus News

Miss Sandra still connecting during a pandemic

Sandra Patterson in dining hall
Sandra Patterson at Bolton Dining Commons. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Miss Sandra spreading her love with virtual hugs and elbow bumps

Miss Sandra might be going through a bit of hug withdrawal. “I can’t give enough love,” said Miss Sandra, aka Sandra Patterson. “I want to give hugs to the kids and make them feel really welcome.”

Miss Sandra is famous for those hugs as well as the joy and love she’s brought to decades of students as a Snelling Dining Commons cashier. Miss Sandra sees herself as an unofficial mom, grandma and auntie to every student who comes through her line. “It’s so important that they know that they are loved around here,” she said. “They’ve left their Mom and their Grandma, so I try to give them back that love.”

When Snelling closed during the pandemic, Miss Sandra moved over to Bolton Dining Commons and has been working extra hard there to make this new crop of freshmen feel loved. “It’s different because I’ve got to get them more at home and used to being around people than I do the older students. It’s taking a little bit more, but they’re coming around wonderfully.”

Sandra Patterson greeting diners as they enter Bolton Dining Commons. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Without her trademark big hugs, she’s making do with elbow bumps and virtual hugs (a big, exaggerated no-touch version that’s about as close as you can get to the real thing). She helps everyone feel welcome by remembering things like whether they just had a test and bequeathing them with one of her roster of pet names (among her favorites: sweet pea, boo, princess and baby).

Sometimes Miss Sandra gets a shy one, especially among the newbies at Bolton who are on their own for the first time. “Oh, they’re so shy and quiet and in their little shells of their own,” she said. “When I first start speaking to them, they don’t say anything. And then I just keep on and keep on and before you know it, I have them.”

She knows they’ll come around eventually. They always do. “One student said, ‘When I first came to Snelling, you said “Hey, Boo, how you doing?” and I thought “What’s wrong with that lady?’” He had no idea what was going on,” laughs Miss Sandra. “But he kept on coming and coming until now he’s one of my Boos.”

Sandra Patterson greeting diners. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

The joy Miss Sandra brings to everyone she meets is well appreciated. Students adore her—they’ve started Facebook fan pages in her honor, created a petition to name a campus building after her and often bring their families back to meet their surrogate mom/grandma/auntie.

Miss Sandra grew up in a family full of love. “I was raised with a lot of hugs and affection,” she said.  She was No. 8 of 10 kids, all daughters. “I was small when my mom passed away, so I didn’t get all the mama hugs I wanted. So now I just want to spread hugs all around.”

Her family, which now includes her three adult children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, still gets together two or three times a month to eat and hang out. “We spend as much time as we can with each other. Since we grew up without a mom, we take care of each other.”

Miss Sandra brings that kind of care to UGA. Even though COVID-19 has put a damper on things, Miss Sandra has a message for all of us. “Just hang on, stay positive and let’s get through this,” she said, throwing in a virtual hug. “I got you. You feel it?”