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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Let’s Unpack That

Photo by Isabel Torrence.

Boxes of every shape, size and color were laid out carefully along a long table on the second floor of the Joe Rosenfield Center. There were bags of Australian snacks, a cat paw handwarmer-power-bank hybrid, rainbow slime and a wide variety of gizmos and gadgets nestled within each parcel.

These packages, compiled for Grinnell students by alumni, were the direct result of an effort started in the Facebook group “Everyday Class Notes” (ECN).

“The group formed in early 2014,” said Jayn Chaney ’05, director of alumni and donor relations. “It was formed as a fun space for alumni to share ideas, to talk about mutual interests and, shortly after its launch, to create this really meaningful opportunity for alumni to give back to current Grinnell students.”

The Facebook group gets its name from the “Class Notes” section at the back of every edition of Grinnell Magazine, the quarterly publication the College sends to all alumni. “It’s a space where alumni send in notable things that they have done…. Some of the alumni felt that there needed to be a space for the more mundane achievements of life.” said Chaney.

Jo Brown ’96.5, who serves as the main liaison between alumni and the Student Alumni Council, explains that a post on ECN could be as simple as “refrained from eating the last slice of pie.” Some alumni in the group, while reminiscing about their college years, brought up their mailboxes and how they had received letters or postcards from the generations before them. Then, the idea of a care package project came up.

The first year the packages were sent out, Brown recalls that the alumni were so excited to share their gifts, that there ended up being more packages than students. Since then, Brown has acted as the coordinator for the program, sending out reminders that care package season is coming up as early as November. They then work throughout December to ensure alumni know about discounts on certain products and to give them enough time to do their holiday shopping.

“In January, we have a big kickoff, and we start talking about what we’re doing and getting together,” said Brown, “There are some alumni that have care package parties, and some families that do this every year … We connect around topics. You get people chattering excitedly about all these different things, and then we talk about thank you notes.”

“We all celebrate when we get responses on what people have liked,” said Brown. In particular, a memory that sticks out for them is when a student thanked them for their gifts, and said they reminded her of her grandmother. “The alumni are pretty excited about this. They’re thinking, ‘Is this going to connect with somebody? Are they going to like it once they open it?’”

“The most important thing for me is the letter,” said Helena Gruensteidl ’20. “I always read them and I always save them … I always look forward to it. When I find out that it’s care pack- age season, I get so excited.” She then pulled a bag of New York espresso beans out of her package and laughed.

“Beans covered in chocolate? Ah, so good.”

“The [alumni letter] definitely gives good life advice,” said Sabrena Scheffel ’22, “They offer advice in a very caring, parental way – I feel cared for! … Especially at this time of year, when everybody’s stressing out, mid- terms are coming up. It’s a good reminder to take care of yourself.”

“I love [these packages],” said Allison Risser ’21, “I love when the alumni get personal with it … It’s really cute and tender when you know that they put effort into it. It’s like, ‘Aw, someone’s thinking about me! Someone who knows the stress of Grinnell!’”

“[The alumni] care about [current students] because you’re at Grinnell and they think that’s awesome,” said Chaney. “They want to communicate to students that you’re not alone. There are people who care about you on cam- pus and off, and we want to offer you something to take your mind off of the cold … It’s really a very, very special thing. I don’t know of any other school that does something like this.”

“The purpose of the care package project is to nurture joy. For the students and for the people who participate in making the packages,” said Brown, “To bring together feelings of joy … Grinnell attracts a whole lot of interesting people. I really love being a part of that.”

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