Caring Goes Viral

February 27, 2014

A note arrives out of the blue: Pick up your care package at the mailroom window. It’s from someone you don’t know, someone who doesn’t know you, and the only thing you have in common is Grinnell.

In this not-so-random act of kindness, born of a Facebook-group discussion, more than 300 alums are sending 1,500 care packages to students before they leave for spring break. Just to show they care.

What Alums Are Sending

Students Say Thanks

Students are sharing their reactions to the out-of-the-blue care packages.

Snacks, of course: home-baked cookies, chocolate, tea, Ramen noodles, mac and cheese, Skittles, M&Ms, and microwave popcorn, to name a few.

Fun and practical stuff too: Silly String, whoopee cushions, stickers, markers, crayons, sidewalk chalk, playing cards, hand-knitted hats, t-shirts, glow sticks, coloring books, balloons, candles, novels, hand-made bracelets, and Emergen-C.

Several also have shared the letter they wrote to their student recipients. A few snippets:

“Even though we’ve never met and may never meet, I hope you love your time at Grinnell. When it’s time to leave Grinnell, I hope you have an amazing life. Knowing there’s one more Grinnellian in the world leading an amazing life makes me confident the world is going to be a better place in the future than it is now.” -- Glen Brown ’91
“Grinnell is a special place. That you may have heard many times, I am sure. That you may have also come to see for yourself, I imagine. What I can add is this. Grinnell is also a special spirit. It is a special state of mind. And it stays with you after you leave that college town.” -- Saty Patrabansh ’98
“So, in these winter doldrums, enjoy this care package, dream about spring coming, and know that after graduation, whenever that is for you, you will be joining a network of the awesomeness that is the Grinnell alumni community in all of its unruly forms.” -- Sarah Fowles ’98

Logistically Speaking

A few alums wanted to send their packages to the students using their old mailboxes, but the numbering system in the current mailroom, which was relocated to the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center, is different.

Andi Tracy ’99 worked in the mailroom all four years when she was a student and offered to help coordinate things on campus. She’s an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience and her office is right across the street from the mailroom.

Tracy, Jeetander Dulani ’98, and Brandy Agerbeck ’96 wrote a note to explain the care package project to students. Mailroom staff puts a copy of the note in students’ mailboxes. Students trade the note for a care package at the mailroom window.

The simplest way for mailroom staff to keep track of who received a package was to start distribution at the beginning of the mailbox numbers.

The first notification slips went into student boxes on Feb. 13.

An Idea That Went Viral

The idea to send the care packages bubbled up from a Facebook discussion among several alums about their old Grinnell mailboxes in Carnegie Hall. Several people mentioned either receiving notes from prior mailbox owners or sending something to the new mailbox owner after they graduated, says Donna House Lohmeier ’96.

The mailbox discussion took place in a Facebook group called Everyday Class Notes that Lohmeier created in January 2014 specifically for Grinnell alums. ECN “started from a point of humor,” Lohmeier says. “It’s like talking with people in your dorm hallway.”

Lohmeier says, “Ryann Cheung ’93 and Jeetander Dulani ‘98 quickly jumped on the care package idea and started a separate thread to see how many folks were interested.”

“The interest was immediate,” Lohmeier says. The mailbox thread was created at 8:04 a.m. on Feb. 7. At 9:40 a.m. the care package thread got started, and by 10:37 a.m. a Facebook event was created.

Will ECN alumni do this again next year? Lohmeier says, “I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“I don’t think there is a better example of what it means to be a Grinnellian than this Everyday Class Notes project,” says Sarah Jolie ’87.