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Strangers flock to help woman fired by Walmart after almost 23 years

Jan Sullivan, 73, is shown in the house she was forced to sell after Walmart fired her. She has moved into a mobile home.

LEAH MILLIS | Times

Jan Sullivan, 73, is shown in the house she was forced to sell after Walmart fired her. She has moved into a mobile home.

ST. PETERSBURG — Jan Sullivan didn't know her story had been read 108,000 times on tampabay.com.

She didn't know that a woman in Bangalore, India, was thinking about her. That a man in Australia wanted to send her a check. That someone in Tampa had created an online account to help raise money for her.

Hundreds of people — all strangers — have offered cash, housing and, in many cases, friendship to Sullivan since the Tampa Bay Times reported her story on Sunday.

Sullivan, who is 73, doesn't have a computer. She was shocked when she learned of the global response.

"I'm overwhelmed," she said. "I didn't think people could care that much, you know?"

Sullivan worked at Walmart for nearly 23 years, most recently as a greeter at the store on Tyrone Boulevard in St. Petersburg.

On Thanksgiving night, she says, a manager instructed her to keep customers from exiting through an entrance. An angry Black Friday shopper shoved her, she says. To catch her balance or to defend herself or both, Sullivan reached out and grabbed the woman's sweater. Sullivan was fired three days later.

"Based on the information we have, the situation led to a bad experience for our customer and it could have been avoided. We had to make a tough decision — one that we don't take lightly," said Walmart spokeswoman Ashley Hardie. "We understand this is a difficult situation, and we're glad Ms. Sullivan will be able to move forward. We wish her the best."

Because Sullivan was terminated for "misconduct," Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity denied her application for unemployment benefits. Sullivan searched for months to find a new job but received no offers. Her credit card debt piled up. She contacted at least three law firms. Only one called back, to say they couldn't help.

Sullivan couldn't afford the mortgage payments on her house, so she was forced to sell it.

She recently moved into a mobile home in Seminole.

Her former neighbor, Amy Wetherbee, is helping Sullivan sort through the offers of support.

Though at least one other online account had already been set up, Wetherbee created a fundraising site for people to donate: www3.indiegogo.com/Jan-Sullivan2012. Anyone wishing to contact Sullivan should email Wetherbee at abound1@aol.com.

Wetherbee and her husband had initially contacted the media about Sullivan's situation. "I expected outrage against Walmart, because people always want to jump on that bandwagon," Wetherbee said Friday. "I didn't really expect outpouring of personal concern for her. It's been amazing."

Sullivan, Wetherbee added, has appeared less bitter about what happened to her. She's smiling more. She seems at peace.

"She just keeps saying, 'I can't believe how many people care about me.'"

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@tampabay.com.

Strangers flock to help woman fired by Walmart after almost 23 years 07/06/12 [Last modified: Friday, July 6, 2012 11:28pm]
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