Rebecca Casagrande knows the struggle a current University of Massachusetts student is facing. On Oct. 24, a student identified as Jonathan Townsend by UMass fraternity Zeta Beta Tau brother Austin Rossi, was diagnosed with a case of meningococcal disease with a serogroup B infection.
Casagrande was diagnosed with a non-bacterial case of meningitis in 1999. She was a student at UMass and had two young children at the time. When she heard Jonathan’s story, she knew she had to help. After reading a blog post about what he is going through, and seeing Zeta Beta Tau’s GoFundMe, Casagrande wanted to do more than just donate $25.
“I get emotional when I think about how hard they are working to raise money for their brother, Jonathan, who’s in this situation, and I think of Jonathan’s struggle and the struggles he’s going to have to recover from this,” Casagrande said. “It really puts your life into perspective.”
On ZBT’s website, it says, “The defining characteristic of a member of Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity is his love for his fellow brothers. It is one of the four pillars upon which our brotherhood exists.”
It then goes on to ask people to “please consider donating to this fund to ease the burden on his family and to help finance his medical bills. Any and all support for our brother in this uncertain time is greatly appreciated.” A link is provided for their GoFundMe page.
About a year and a half ago, Casagrande opened Sunset Grill and Pizza on 150 Fearing St. in Amherst. Her first instinct was to work with ZBT and create a fundraiser where she could use her business to help raise money. Her first step was to track down ZBT’s president, Jake Hayutin.
After about a week and a half of trying to track down Hayutin, Casagrande was finally able to meet him. Their first idea was to donate a percentage of earnings from each order for two nights to Jonathan’s fund. Jake then offered ZBT as a delivery service for those two nights, allowing them to earn tips from those deliveries. Casagrande also had a tip button on her website and an additional tip jar in the restaurant.
After eight days of planning, the fundraiser started. From Wednesday, Nov. 15 from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Thursday, Nov. 16 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., 10 percent of each order and all tips were collected to add to Jonathan’s fund. Casagrande said 102 new customers created accounts and ordered from online in those two days. She also saw a lot of her regular customers come in and order to support the event.
In 11 hours, they raised $950, according to Rossi. Casagrande said about $700 was raised Wednesday night and the rest was raised on Thursday night. As of November 22, ZBT has raised $16,537 of their $25,000 goal.
Casagrande said the men, who worked in shifts, were very helpful not only in delivering food, but around the restaurant. When the 14 men on duty weren’t making deliveries, they were answering phones and offered to do chores, such as wash dishes in the kitchen.
“They did an awesome job for not being actual delivery drivers. They did a really good job. We had a couple of customers with some weird requests and the ZBT guys were really great with those,” Casagrande said.
Casagrande said some of the guys’ friends called and requested special instructions for their deliveries. Some requested them to dance and sing while another customer requested “the hottest guy” to deliver their pizza.
To accommodate the larger quantity of orders, Casagrande created a special online menu for the fundraiser. The pizza oven in the shop can make three large pizzas, six small pizzas, or two party pizzas at a time. To prevent backing up and running out of their handmade pizza dough, she took party pizzas off of the menu along with their specials, including “mac and cheese grilled cheese” and “mac and cheese stuffed burger.” She also took most of the deli sandwiches off the online menu, with the exception of the gluten-free options.
She thought the fundraiser went very well, and was happily surprised by the support shown by the other Greek affiliations.
“It was really nice, after some of the negative things that happened [this semester], that they all came together for this. I think it was really huge,” Casagrande said.
Rossi, the media chair of Zeta Beta Tau, worked to get the word out about the event through social media and delivered pizzas during the event.
“The goal was to raise as much money as possible, which will be donated to the Townsend family to help offset any of the medical costs they face from Jonathan’s hospitalization.” Rossi said.
The Operations & Information Management sophomore “had a lot of fun participating in the event and it was very comforting to see how supportive the UMass community is of our brother in his time of need.”
Abigail Charpentier can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @abigailcharp.