Students Launch Fundraiser to Help Dining Hall Workers Temporarily Laid-Off Due to COVID-19

A group of SMU students have started a GoFundMe fundraiser to garner community support for dining hall workers impacted financially by the pandemic. Dining hall workers can apply for these funds to receive a grant of up to $400 in financial assistance.

Around 250 dining hall employees were furloughed by Aramark after the closure of dining locations on campus due to COVID-19 restrictions. According to university officials, these workers are being offered the opportunity to return in the next couple of weeks, however many have been temporarily laid-off for months and are struggling financially.

Students Alex Fassnacht, Ben Jaksick, and Elise Johnson, members of the new student organization SMU Unsung Heroes, decided to launch the fundraising effort to “help [dining hall workers] and their families stay afloat during this time by helping them pay for groceries, rent, healthcare costs, and other urgent needs,” according to the GoFundMe page.

“They’ve cared for us; now it’s our turn to care for them,” the site says.

Fassnacht, a rising sophomore, lived in Virginia-Snider Residence Hall before the pandemic, and frequented the Umphrey Lee Dining Hall nearby. At Umph, she quickly built a relationship with dining hall workers she regards as incredibly warm and friendly.

“I really loved Mama T, Derrick, and Ms. G,” Fassnacht said. “They were just shining lights for all of us, and always there.”

Fassnacht says she would have regular conversations with Ms. G when she stopped by the dining hall for freshly baked cookies. “She’s just the best, and she’s so fun to talk to,” the international relations major said.

Ben Jasick, a rising sophomore, had a similar relationship with a dining worker he knows as Señora María.

“I’d walk into the dining hall every morning for breakfast, and I’d always get eggs,” the economics major said. “She was so great. She would always help me with my Spanish and teach me new words and phrases.”

As a pre-major senator, Fassnacht was eager to start a tradition of appreciation among students for staff and faculty at SMU. In the middle of the school year, she found out about Unsung Heroes, an organization started at Georgetown University to “spotlight the custodians, maintenance, security and dining hall workers who often get overlooked, but contribute so much to the functioning and feel of the community.”

Jaksick and Johnson joined Fassnacht to begin SMU Unsung Heroes, and came up with the idea to start a fundraiser after hearing that 250 dining hall workers were temporarily let go by SMU’s facilities contractor, Aramark, during the pandemic.

The students are encouraging the SMU community to come together and provide financial support by donating any amount they are able. “The goal is to raise $20,000 so that we can give $400 grants to 50 workers who are in need during this difficult time. If we raise $40,000, that means 100 workers and their families will be impacted, and so on,” the GoFundMe page says.

The GoFundMe has currently reached almost $5,000 of its $20,000 goal. The students are encouraging the campus community to spread the word and share the fundraiser with the hashtag #SupportTheSupportStaff on social media.

“I hope the dining hall staff feel seen by the students, because I’m not sure they always feel that,” Fassnacht said. “I just want them to feel supported like we feel all year because of them.”