by Alison Krupnick
Each November, the Rainier Scholars office is filled with boxes. If you look carefully, you might see the head of a stuffed animal, a bottle of Purell or a bag of jerky peeking out. Boxes bound for Minnesota might include SmartWool socks. Boxes bound for anywhere but Seattle will likely feature a nod to our city’s coffee obsession. Boxes bound for sunnier locales might include a fond reference to our signature gray skies. Turns out, being away at college far from home can make a scholar nostalgic for rain.
Gummy bears help.
Twice a year, volunteers from the Rainier Scholars community lovingly and thoughtfully create care packages for every one of our college scholars. Bound for all four corners of the country — Alaska, Florida, Maine and California – and many places in between, and filled with a mix of the practical and the whimsical, along with a note from the sender, these reminders of home are eagerly awaited by the students who receive them.
“Care packages help scholars feel grounded,” says Rainier Scholars Office Manager and Program Assistant Rediet Mulugeta, who is managing the program for the first time this year. “The message is, ‘You may be away, but we are still here, and we are thinking about you.’”
This month, 167 college scholars will receive packages created by 47 individual and corporate volunteers. Mulugeta works with Associate Director of Academic Counseling Milena Flores to make the matches.
“We like to create opportunities for connection,” says Flores, who cites schools and fields of study as some examples of the common ground she finds between scholars and volunteers. She’s seen the relationships extend beyond a one-time box of goodies to mentorship and career advice. Corporate teams lean into this opportunity to engage with Rainier Scholars, with some preparing as many as 30 care packages per season.
The college care package initiative is a well-oiled machine that takes months of thoughtful planning. In September, Mulugeta met with academic and corporate relations staff to launch the project and spread the word to returning and new volunteers. Academic counselors prepared bios of each scholar, including their photos and wish lists, to help personalize the process.
As November gets underway, the Rainier Scholars office starts to fill up with packages and the excitement builds. Staff and volunteers wait at the entrance to the 2100 building for packages to be dropped off and names to be crossed off the delivery list. Mulugeta races downstairs with a rolling cart and just as quickly disappears to dispatch them to the office staging area where they will be prepared for delivery.
“The scope of this project is really impressive,” says Flores. “The whole Rainier Scholars community gets involved.” This year, she arranged for staff to personally deliver care packages to Seattle-based college students, who appreciate them as much as their far-flung peers. For the scholars, anticipation builds as soon as November rolls around. “Sophomores who remember receiving care packages their first year at school ask us when they will be coming again,” says Flores.
No sooner are the care packages out the door then it’s time to start planning for the next round. In January, Mulugeta and Flores will begin recruiting volunteers for spring college care packages.
“The college care package initiative is deliberately scholar-centered,“ says Mulugeta. “The message scholars receive is that even people they don’t know are rooting for them.”