Sandy Arsenault was picking up her paycheck from Wild Oats Cafe & Bakery in Brunswick last month when suddenly she found herself on the way to the hospital.

A staff member at the cafe, Arsenault had been battling an unknown illness for approximately six months prior to the emergency room visit on Jan. 10 and was taking a month off of work as a result.

Following a series of life-threatening abdominal procedures and a weeks long hospital stay, Arsenault said Tuesday that she is finally on the up and up — but is still coming “out of a fog.”

She’s now been diagnosed with vascular disease, an illness that led to list of organs needing to be removed. Arsenault’s condition is stable, however the stress of medical bills weighs over her and she remains in a rehabilitation center while working to regain strength.

Lewiston resident and Wild Oats employee Sandy Arsenault pictured with her grandson. Submitted photo

“Right now, I’m walking like Bambi. But I’m walking,” said Arsenault, a 58-year-old Lewiston resident and mother of two. “My life was extremely normal, and now it’s extremely turned upside down.”

For many of the patrons at Wild Oats, Arsenault is known as more than just a familiar face, and her absence has sparked concern and desire to help. She’s worked as counter staff there for 13 years and is said to treat each person she rings up like a guest at her home. People tell her everything, Arsenault said – she knows them, and they know her.


As of Tuesday, a community fundraiser by the café had brought in over $31,000 through 485 donations to help cover her bills, rehabilitation treatment and living expenses.

Arsenault, who is insured, suspects that the cost of healthcare will take every penny she has. Yet the generosity has helped more than anybody will ever know, she said, in a way that’s “not even about the financial part.”

“It’s the part that people give a damn,” said Arsenault. “That I’ve made a difference. It’s just unbelievable to me that people can be that generous and that I meant something into the world. Had I not made it, I meant something.”

According to Becky Shepherd, owner of Wild Oats Bakery & Café, in many ways Arsenault is a “daytime bartender” for the business, striking up conversations and interacting with customers on a first-name basis.

“She just makes a connection with everyone — a genuine connection,” said Shepherd.

Customers turned to friends who have gifted letters, jewelry and gift certificates to Arsenault over the years, Shepherd added. One time a Bowdoin College student wrote a senior essay on how Arsenault supported her through her time at the school.


Brunswick residents and longtime regular customers at Wild Oats Bunny Andrews and Jane Cullen both said that Arsenault was friendly and reliable, recalling instances where she would go out of her way to help.

“She sincerely connects with the customers,” said Cullen. “She truly is the face of the store as far as I’m concerned.”

“I think she treated everyone the same, it didn’t matter who you were, if you were paying $1.50 or if you were buying a pie for $25,” said Andrews.

Andrews and Cullen said that the fundraising efforts are reflective of the Brunswick community, where people and businesses come together to care and support one another.

Arsenault hopes to be out of the rehabilitation center later this week, and although the road of recovery is uncertain, Shepherd said at some point Wild Oats hopes to welcome her back to the store.

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