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Bookstore Brings Hugs from Home to Students for Valentine’s Day
On Valentine’s Day morning, the receiving area of the Syracuse University Bookstore in the lower level of the Schine Student Center was bustling.
Fruit baskets lined one shelf. Other shelves held large bags called the Valentine’s Snack Attack—filled with cookies, crackers, popcorn and other snackable items. Flowers were arranged artfully in vases, plush bears tightly clutched candy bars, and balloons were bunched together in cheerful bouquets.
The Bookstore’s Hugs from Home program offers parents and families the opportunity to order sweet and thoughtful treats for their students for Valentine’s Day, Halloween, final exams and birthdays. Valentine’s Day is by far the busiest delivery day, says Don Maitland, the Bookstore’s receiving manager, who leads the staff in preparing for the big day. On Thursday, this space was the staging area from which Bookstore employees prepped for the delivery of more than 400 gifts to students in residence halls, academic buildings and Greek houses across campus.
Parents selecting gifts had 15 packages from which to choose, including various combinations of snacks; fruit; balloons; cookie cakes, cupcakes and cookies from the Food Services Bake Shop; Chocolate Pizza Company pizza and wings; collegiate items; flowers; candy; chocolate-covered strawberries and plush bears.
The Bookstore has run the Hugs from Home Program for more than 30 years, and administrative assistant Linda Owens has coordinated the program and deliveries for the past 18. She and department manager Patty Hayden, both longtime Bookstore employees, have been assembling the gifts together for years. In fact, they work so closely that they are affectionately nicknamed “the twins” by their coworkers.
The Valentine’s Day initiative begins months in advance, as Hayden begins ordering non-perishable items. In the weeks preceding Valentine’s Day, Hayden, Owens and other staff members, including student employees, begin creating the gift packages. Gifts containing perishable items—such as flowers and baked goods—are assembled in the immediate days leading up to Valentine’s Day.
Early on Thursday morning, Maitland was busy cross-referencing handwritten cards with master lists, ensuring that everything was in order. Hayden crowned the Berry Indulgence packages—chocolate-covered strawberries—with red bows while Owens worked on assembling balloon bouquets—making sure that each was just right. The two moved from task to task with the ease of a well-oiled machine, evidence of their years of experience in making this day go off without a hitch.
Bookstore employees Steve Richardson and Yuqing Sun worked on attaching cards to gifts. Once labeled and ready to go, they were packed into boxes organized by residence halls and placed on pallets. Driver Rob Hillers loaded the pallets onto a truck and delivered them to the front desks of each of the residence halls, where they awaited pickup by students.
“We are always happy when this day comes,” Maitland says. “There is always a lot of excitement around getting everything together and out to the students.”
The program is one of the ways the Bookstore supports students during their Syracuse experience. “Aside from being committed to providing students with the goods and services required for their academic success, we also like to feel it’s within our mission to provide products and services that connect the student, alum and family member to campus,” says SU Bookstore Director Roger Hailstork. “This is evidenced by campuswide events such as visitation days and homecomings, where the Bookstore doubles as a hub for connecting and reconnecting regardless of school or college affiliation.”
As the orders were processed, Owens and Hayden kept a watchful eye to make sure everything was running smoothly, particularly in the residence halls with lots of orders. “Once we get the big batches done, I breathe a little easier,” Owens said.
The staff that work with Hugs and other “under the radar” Bookstore programs are incredible, Hailstork says. “It is not an exaggeration to say they treat each order as if they made it for their loved ones. Staff comes in early and leaves late to ensure that all items are accounted for and all addresses are correct,” he says. “This is not a project that just started this week. They have spent the last month ordering product, double checking names and coordinating the delivery effort. Accuracy is a point of personal pride with my staff, as they know the loved ones who ordered these arrangements trust us to get it right.”
While Hillers delivered gifts to the campus residence halls, Anthony Gandino loaded up a van with the deliveries intended for South Campus. He has been making these deliveries for several years. Even when the campus shut down on Valentine’s Day due to bad weather several years ago, Gandino and his co-workers made the campus deliveries.
Gandino delivered gifts Thursday to several South Campus student residents, including sophomore Allison Small.
“I received a gift of cookies, and they were from my mom and dad back home. It was very sweet to have them delivered to me, and it felt as if I weren’t so far from them right now,” Small said. “I was walking around with a smile on my face all day having felt loved this Valentine’s Day!”
At other apartments where no one was home, Gandino left a note asking the student to pick up their gift at the Bookstore. At a few apartments, he left gifts with roommates.
“I am sure she will share,” he told one roommate, an illustration of how the love of Hugs from Home extends throughout campus.