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Hugs, cookies, freebies and love planned to welcome MSU students back to campus

A small idea to show support to MSU students keeps expanding as the grassroots Spartan Sunday event takes shape, now as a university-sponsored event. Students will get treats and everything from mom hugs to notes of positivity. (Bridge photo by Dale Young)
  • A grassroots effort to show support to MSU students on Sunday as they prepare for a return to classes keeps growing
  • Giveaways and comfort packages will line Red Cedar River trail from the Spartan statue to the Rock 
  • Volunteers are still needed as hundreds of groups plan to participate

Feb. 19: For grieving Michigan State students, a day of doggos, donuts and mom hugs

Hundreds of volunteers will converge on Michigan State University on Sunday, filling the path between the Spartan statue and The Rock with signs and freebies to shower students returning to campus with love.

In an effort to ease the transition after Monday’s mass shooting, tables at the event known as Spartan Sunday will offer everything from Hershey’s Kisses, affirmation notes and Girl Scout Cookies to McDonald’s gift cards, motivational stickers, lawn games and therapy dogs.

Many stops will offer “mom hugs,” while one promises plenty of corny dad jokes — all part of an effort to support students before classes resume Monday.

It’s happening “so that the students coming back can feel loved and supported,” organizer Emily Damman told Bridge. “And like they have the Michigan State family behind them.”

Related:

Spartan Sunday is from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday along the Red Cedar River trail on central campus. It follows an outpouring of support nationwide to MSU after a gunman killed three students and injured five before killing himself.

Details for volunteers and visitors are pending, as are directions for parking.

Damman, an MSU graduate student in speech pathology, said she and a group of friends in her department created the event on Wednesday. 

Driving through an empty campus on Tuesday was dismal, she recalled. Remembering the joy from their undergraduate years, Damman and others said they felt compassion for students whose college experience is now scarred by violence.

“It just started with like the five or six of us wanting to maybe pass out $5 gift cards and flowers from Meijer,” Damman told Bridge. “I was just thinking of ways to make campus a little brighter when the kids come back.”

Thousands of dollars in donations later — and with at least 100 participating tables as of midday Friday — the event continues to grow.

MSU administration, including campus police, is now sponsoring the event, in part because it links the broader community to the support network for Spartans. 

“We remain ready to support our students, and a whole community is behind them,” wrote Thomas Jeitschko, interim provost and executive vice president for student affairs in a letter to Damman sent on Friday. 

“It is through the light of others that we come together and begin healing.”

Damman and her group are leading multiple stages of Spartan Sunday. Details may change. So far: 

  • The Cedar Path from the Spartan Statue to the Rock will be filled with tables manned by groups of volunteers — like Spartan moms, high school students, businesses, licensed therapy dogs and alumni — who will be ready to smile and hug, along with handing out treats and encouragement.
  • Volunteers will clean the Red Cedar River
  • Signs of support, including chalk drawings, are welcomed to be posted there and around East Lansing.

MSU now is coordinating portions of the event, Damman told Facebook followers on Friday, due to university protocols for donations and gifts of food.

Organizers have plenty of giveaways, Damman said, but volunteers are still needed. 

As of Friday, she said through the Spartan Sunday Facebook event page, “We need smiles, positive attitudes, and loving spirits more (than more items).”

Monetary donations will be used toward finishing comfort packages with things like deodorant, toothpaste and gas cards for students. Any unused funds “will be donated back to our MSU students,” Damman said, without additional detail.

Organizers are also thinking about the students who decide they’re not ready to come back to campus, or those who are there and still hesitant to join a public event.

Extra donations will be gathered after 4 p.m. Sunday, and distributed in areas where students gather, like dormitories and off-campus housing. 

“If they’re not ready to come back on Sunday, then that's totally OK,” she said. 

“We just hope that students know that we want to see them on Sunday,” Damman added. “And we want to be able to …. help make this a little bit easier.”

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