When students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill go to swipe their meal cards at one of the university’s dining halls, they often see the face of Deborah Paige, a longtime dining hall employee.
“She is a light in a dark place in that there’s a lot of pressure on students and a lot going on in students’ lives,” UNC senior Caitlin Ball, 22, told ABC News. "To have someone every time they go in the dining hall to ask how they’re doing and what is going on, that means a lot.”
Now those same students greeted by Paige at their daily meals have opened up their wallets to the tune of over $2,000 dollars and counting to help their beloved dining hall employee.
A GoFundMe campaign started by Ball and her classmate, sophomore Sarah Adams, has raised $2,237 since Friday. The goal of the campaign is to raise money to, “Fix Ms. Deborah’s Car,” as the campaign is titled.
“I met Ms. Deborah last year and we became friends and always talk when I’m in the dining hall,” Adams, 18, told ABC News. “She said her car has been broken down and she has to stay in Chapel Hill with her daughter so she can take a bus into work.”
Adams shared a post about Paige, who she says lives in a town 40 minutes away from the campus, with a group of friends, which included Ball.
“We just started praying and God gave me the idea to start a GoFundMe page,” Ball said. "I looked on the page and the first thing I saw was the James Robertson car story and I thought okay that feels like confirmation.”
Ball is referring to the GoFundMe campaign for Robertson, a Michigan man whose story of walking 21 miles to and from work daily went viral and ended up raising over $350,000 and garnering a new car for Robertson.
Just as commuters grasped onto that story and were quick to donate to Robertson, hundreds of Ball and Adams’ fellow UNC students were quick to donate to Paige’s cause.
“The whole weekend we were texting each other about how much had been donated,” Ball said. “After the first two or so people who donated were people we knew, we had no idea who the others were so it was just overwhelming and really incredible.”
Adams and Ball have planned to surprise Paige with the donations on Wednesday afternoon at the end of her shift. Over 100 people have RSVP’d on Facebook for the surprise event, but with all the attention, the students say Paige may now have a clue.
“We just spoke with her at the dining hall and it seems like she was trying to pretend she didn’t know anything was happening,” Adams told ABC News today. “We’re still going to keep planning it as a surprise.”
The students also plan to keep the GoFundMe page open for donations to further help Paige, whom Ball and Adams have since learned had to file for bankruptcy on her home last year and is in a 5-year program to pay it off. Ball and Adams also say Paige's husband is unable to work because of medical issues and her son is in and out of the hospital with medical issues of his own.
“It’s just very much about how much she cares about individual students,” Adams said of Paige. “She knows a lot of people’s names and really cares about greeting everyone and asking how our day was.”
“We don’t get that feeling or attention from everyone but we do from Mrs. Deborah," she said.