When 28-year-old Veronica Juneau first starting shopping at the Walmart in Elk River, Minn., earlier this year, she was met with a fist bump by Ray Belanger, the designated greeter. In fact, she noticed that every person who walked through the glass doors, whether a child or an adult, was met with a high-five or a joke.
“He’s always just so cheery and lively,” says Juneau, who lives in Big Lake and is a full-time student at North Hennepin Community College. “When I’m having a bad day, he makes me feel happy. He doesn’t even try, it’s just who he is.”
After a local news station ran a story about Belanger last spring, members of a community Facebook group began to discuss joining forces to do something nice for Belanger. When the holidays came around, Juneau came up with an idea: she would start a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe to raise money to give Belanger a special present this Christmas. She started with a goal to raise $2,000.
“We want to show just how much he’s impacted the community just by being himself,” explains Juneau. “And because he can’t receive gifts while on the job, I wanted to create an online campaign for people who moved away and miss his spirit, or don’t have time to meet with him outside of Walmart.”
A Rocky Start
At the end of November, Juneau posted a link to the campaign on the local Facebook group’s message board. But it was a rocky start. Because that group does not allow posts that ask people for money, moderators wanted to remove it. Some group members expressed disapproval of the campaign, arguing that GoFundMe campaigns should be used for people with severe economic hardship or life-threatening medical conditions. “I felt a little discouraged at first, because some people had posted rude comments,” says Juneau.
On the upside, a small group of supporters started to share the campaign on their personal social media pages, and it soon began trending on GoFundMe. Within a few hours, there were about 200 shares, then 1,000. In a few days, was shared more than 1,200 times. Since the campaign was created at the end of November, it has raised nearly $1,700 from 86 contributors.
“And I’m baffled,” says Juneau. “I thought the community might raise maybe a couple hundred dollars, and I never expected it to get as far as it did.”
For his part, 80-year-old Belanger is humbled by the show of support. Before becoming a Walmart greeter two years ago, he worked at an iron scrapyard while juggling other jobs. “It’s in my nature to be friendly,” he told MagnifyMoney. “I like to talk to people, to ask them how they’re doing. I stop them and ask, ‘whose idea was it to shop this lovely evening when it’s snowing?’ I just don’t stand there and look at them. I talk to them and make them happy.”
‘I Like to Talk to People’
Because Belanger doesn’t have a computer, he’s been concerned about getting the chance to thank everyone who has contributed to the campaign. “I didn’t expect it, but I am appreciating every minute of it,” says Belanger, who has four kids and seven grandkids. “I’ve got to thank all these people somehow.”
To give Belanger a chance to thank everyone in person, Juneau and her friend Alyssa Mae DeMers organized a potluck the Sunday before Christmas. Belanger was met by the smiling faces of longtime Walmart customers, family, and friends.
When asked what he plans to do with the generous cash gift, Belanger thought immediately of his wife, Phyllis, who is 75 and retired from cleaning homes and local businesses. “[I’ll] probably put it in a savings account for [my] wife,” he says.
A Chance to Connect
Juneau recommends those who also want to give to others not to hesitate. “If you think something is worth doing, then do it,” she says. “Because if you don’t get out there and you don’t do anything, you won’t know where the community stands.”
Already, she is feeling more connected to the community where she has lived less than two years. She moved to the area in the summer of 2015 from southeast Minnesota with her young son but no other family in the area.
“It’s so awesome for the community to come together for a cause,” says Juneau. “So many people have been supportive, by sharing the campaign, and with their nice comments and generous donations. It just goes to show how one man who went above and beyond ‘just doing his job’ can touch people. You affect people every day, whether you realize it or not. People are so genuinely in love with Ray that they just want to give to him.”
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