The shoebox said “Donations for Mariana.”
Oscar Arreaza, a 67-year-old cashier at a convenience store inside Indiana University’s McNutt Residence Hall, has been living in the U.S. since 2004. His daughter, 38-year-old Mariana, still lives in Venezuela, where doctors say she is suffering from internal bleeding. Without insurance, the single mother likely won’t be able to afford surgery, Arreaza told IndyStar.
“I always try to help her as much as I can,” he said.
His solution: A shoebox to collect donations. Arreaza told freshman Becca Richter about his daughter’s situation and suggested maybe she could help him raise money.
Richter said she took the box with plans to collect cash, but realized it might be easier to collect funds electronically. So, she sent a message to her Pi Beta Phi sorority group chat asking anyone interested in donating to send her money via Venmo. The message spread.
Several hours later, when Arreaza’s shift ended, a group of students surprised him outside the elevator with the shoebox — now containing a note indicating a $3,000 donation from the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity.
“I was so touched, I started crying,” Arreaza said. “I felt the love of the students.”
Arreaza said he was shocked by the gesture.
“I told them, No. 1, I did not ask them to do that, and No. 2, I was surprised they did that,” he said. “And they said to me, ‘Oscar, we do it because we want to return the love you give us, the love you transmit when we go through the register.”
“They all screamed, ‘We love you.'”
In the 24 hours since Richter first learned of Mariana’s story, they’ve raised more than $8,000, with more than 580 donations on Venmo from IU students, alumni and strangers. A GoFundMe account has been created to manage incoming donations. They plan to accept donations until May 4, the last day of IU’s spring semester and Arreaza’s birthday.
Richter said she’s grown close with Arreaza since moving into the dorm. For Christmas, she bought him a wooden keychain in the shape of a guitar that said his name. They sometimes share a few moments of dancing to Latin music when she checks out at his register, she said.
“He makes everyone feel like you’re his best friend,” she said. “It’s a type of positivity you definitely don’t see day to day anymore.”
She said Arreaza’s kindness is why the donations continue to come in. She can’t wait to show him the messages people have sent her about him on social media.
“He’s just the sweetest person,” she said. “Even if you don’t know him, if you’ve just seen the video, you know that he’s a sweet, pure soul who just deserves all the kindness in the world.”
Arreaza said he was a professor, teaching plant breeding, genetics and statistics for 25 years before he and his wife moved to Indiana to help another daughter care for her children. He said he knew getting a job in the U.S. would be a struggle.
“Here, it is so highly competitive I haven’t been able to get a teaching job,” he said. “I wish I could have a teaching job.”
He worked a handful of jobs before joining the university as a cashier, first at the Indiana Memorial Union and now at McNutt. He hopes to someday help the rest of his family move to the U.S. and escape the unrest in Venezuela.
“I really want inside my heart to help them come to the states,” he said.
Getting Mariana healthy, he said, is a step in the right direction. He’s grateful for the kindness shown to him.
“I have many emotions today,” he said.
How to donate
To donate to Mariana’s surgery fund, visit gofundme.com/prayformariana.
Call IndyStar reporter Holly Hays at (317) 444-6156. Follow her on Twitter: @hollyvhays.
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