By: Claire Jordan | Photography: Casey Lemmings
The hustle and bustle of UGA sings with a chorus of chattering students, chirping birds and the Chapel Bell - but perhaps the most comforting sound on campus is the resounding, “Hi Honey!” from Ms. Sandra Patterson, a cashier at Snelling Dining Commons. Students love her spunky spirit and genuine smile. She has doled out her famous hugs for 27 years with no sign of stopping.
Ms. Sandra hails from South Carolina but has lived in Athens since the age of six. She grew up with nine sisters and still gets together with them frequently. Ms. Sandra and her sisters suffered the loss of their mother at a young age, but their father and grandmother stepped in as primary caregivers. This loss created a strong bond that has lasted for many years. “We like to have big family gatherings, cook for each other and watch sports together,” Patterson says. “That’s my favorite thing, being with family.” Ms. Sandra has three children of her own as well as six grandchildren. She spends most of her free time attending various school or sporting events that her family is involved in.
Growing up, she loved sports and modestly admits, “I used to play a little basketball.” Her passion for athletics lives on today in the way she cares for UGA student athletes. She is intentional about getting to know and encourage them daily. In her time at Snelling, she has hugged hundreds of ball players, including Herschel Walker. She genuinely loves interacting with all students. “I enjoy that part more than anything,” Patterson says. “I get all my dreams at once: a good job and working with young people.”
During breaks, Ms. Sandra enjoys her favorite Snelling meal with friends, the classic cheeseburger. She also loves reading on her time off and is always looking for another book to add to her list. “Unveiled,” by Francine Rivers, is her latest find. As far as entertainment goes, she is a fan of all scary movies as well as the classic sitcom, such as Tyler Perry’s House of Payne. She loves anything with Denzel Washington in it, but she believes his best work is the award-winning thriller John Q.
In the past, Ms. Sandra worked at a laundromat and day care center but found her place early on with UGA Food Services. She vividly remembers her first day at Snelling. “I was so young and afraid, but an older lady took me in as her daughter and showed me around,” Patterson says. “I started out on the main line as a food server and salad maker,” Patterson says. Over the years, she has seen a lot of good times at Snelling, but her favorite day was her surprise 40th birthday party thrown by staff and students. “I am really loved by ya’ll, and that makes me feel so good,” Patterson says in reflection on this day. “I’ve been blessed – not in fortune, but in love. Not many people have been loved like I have.”
When asked why she cares so passionately, she says, “I just see the kids, and I know they’re away from home, and I feel for them.” Thank you, Ms. Sandra, for consistently making UGA students feel at home with the simplicity of a genuine hug and kind word.