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For grieving Michigan State students, a day of doggos, donuts and mom hugs

Flowers, notes, treats and dog pets were part of Spartan Sunday, bringing a few hours of positivity to a campus that has been through hell. (Bridge photo by Ron French)
  • MSU students returned to East Lansing this weekend, before classes resume Monday
  • More than 1,000 volunteers flooded campus Sunday to offer free food, drink and hugs
  • One volunteer said she wanted students to know that ‘there is still good in the world’

EAST LANSING —The volunteers couldn’t wait, and neither could the students.

Spartan Sunday, a grassroots effort to show support to grieving students as they return to campus for restart of classes following a mass shooting, was supposed to run from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday 

But by 10 a.m. the 100 tables MSU had dropped off for the event had been claimed by volunteers, and lined along the river walk between the Spartan statue and the campus Rock.


By 11 a.m. thousands of students had arrived, converging from all directions. There were donuts and hot pretzels, candy and granola bars, containers of mac and cheese and tubs of peanut butter. One table was giving out flowers; another, laundry detergent pods.

And there were dogs everywhere for students to pet. Poodles and retrievers, huskies and dobermans, puppies with serious cases of the jumps and senior dogs with limps.

For a campus and community devastated by a senseless tragedy just six days earlier, the outpouring of love and support was just what the doctor ordered.

Volunteers walked through the crowd handing out bags, donated by Meijer, to hold goodies. If students already had one bag, volunteers told them to take a second for more stuff; if they had two bags, they suggested a third.

Students left with smiles and bulging bags.

“It couldn’t have gone any better,” organizer Emily Damman said as the event wound down. “The students were happy to be in such a supportive place.”

Volunteers offered students returning to Michigan State University's campus everything from hugs to candy and detergent pods. Classes resume Monday after a mass shooting on Feb. 13. (Bridge photo by Ron French)

Damman said she’d originally hoped to find 20 volunteers to staff tables on campus. On Sunday, she estimated more than 1,000 showed up. Many were members of the local community or had family ties to the university. At least one group came from Grosse Pointe. Many wore white shirts with green lettering that read “Bringing love back to campus.”

Dan Carlson stood behind a table offering Girl Scout cookies and dad jokes.

“What’s a pirate’s favorite letter?” Carlson asked a student.

“It’s Rrrrrrr,” the student answered.

“You’d think that, but it’s actually the C,” Carlson said, and laughed.

 “I’m just here to support these kids who need love,” said Carlson, who graduated from MSU in 1994.

Volunteers gave returning students Girl Scout Cookies and other snack food during Spartan Sunday at Michigan State University. (Bridge photo by Ron French)

At numerous spots along the walk, volunteers offered free “mom hugs.”

Marissa Gilson had first held up a sign offering mom hugs at a vigil held Wednesday evening for the three dead and five wounded students who were victims of the Feb. 13 shooting spree. There, the East Lansing native hugged hundreds of students.

“Some broke down,” she said. “They needed the presence of a mom.”

By Sunday, there was an army of moms, ready with open arms.

“Mr. Rogers’ mother said to always look for the helpers,” Gilson said. “I live my life through that value.”

By 3 p.m., students had snatched up all the food and drink and tables were being taken down. All that remained were moms giving hugs, and dogs giving wags.

Also still there was the Casazza family. “We grew up here and went to school here,” Kiera Casazza said. “We wanted to spread the love.”

Working like an assembly line, three adults made hearts out of pipe cleaners, and four children, ages 3 to 8, handed them to passers-by.

“We just want to give people hope,” Casazza said, “that there is still good in the world.” 

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