2017 Grinnell grad happily goes from care package recipient to sender

March 4, 2020 — After receiving care packages for four years as a student, Jenny Dong ’17 knew she would return the favor when she became a Grinnell alumna.

Jenny Dong '17
    Jenny Dong ’17

“This is such a personal, intimate way to connect with Grinnell students,” Dong says. “I definitely wanted to remain connected with the College after I graduated and give other students the excitement that I got to experience as a student. I’m elated to write my letter, tell my story, and give whatever advice that I have.”

Dong, a public relations specialist at the Penn State Eberly College of Science, is among the numerous Grinnell alums who participated in the 2020 Everyday Class Notes care package project.

Now in its seventh year, alumni made and shipped 1,340 care packages. The packages were distributed to students Feb. 24-26 in the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center (JRC). Each student received a ticket in their mailbox. They exchanged the ticket for any package they wanted on the distribution table. Several alums also were on hand to help with distribution.

Dong was a first-year student in 2014 when the initial idea to send the care packages bubbled up in a discussion on a Facebook group called Everyday Class Notes, or ECN for short. Several alums reminisced about their old Grinnell mailboxes in Carnegie Hall, mentioning receiving notes or small gifts from prior mailbox owners.

Students were surprised and excited the first time care packages were distributed, Dong says about the 2014 distribution.

“It clicked with me that alumni had really taken it upon themselves to create a connection with current students,” she says. “It created this sense of unity with the greater Grinnell community.”

Two students show tickets they received in their mailboxes to be exchanged for ECN care packages.
Two students show tickets they received in their mailboxes to be exchanged for ECN care packages.

Early in her student days, Dong received a fair amount of snacks and nostalgic toys in her care packages, such as silly string and bubbles. In recent years, she’s seen a bit of shift in the types of packages. Some alums specialize or create themed boxes. She once picked a package sent by Brandy Agerbeck ’96 that included arts and craft items. Dong learned about Agerbeck’s visual learning work and had color coordinated markers to take notes during class.

Because of her growing interest in makeup, skin care, and therapeutic care of self, Dong included makeup products, face and hair masks, and chocolates in this year’s care package. There was a vague description on the outside of the packaging to indicate it would be good for a student who wanted those types of products.

“I’ve had a chance to show my personality each year I sent a package,” she says. “My first year I sent things that really told the recipient about what I was like when I was in college.”

One of the most anticipated items in many care packages is the letter from the alum. Dong says a lot of her friends specifically hoped to get a lengthy letter so that they could develop a sense of connection with the Grinnellian who made the package. For example, Dong and Alumni Council member Kelly Clements Hopfer ’96 bonded over both being on the swimming team after Hopfer mentioned swimming in her letter. In response, Dong write Hopfer a thank you note, which Hopfer still has today.

“Kelly is an amazing person who I’ve gotten to know in the past few years,” Dong says. “I wasn’t anticipating making a friendship. I always contacted the alumni back and would recommend students do the same, if they are comfortable. Share these experiences with one another because there aren’t others outside the Grinnell community that will understand what your experience is like.”

Students display the care packages they chose from the distribution table.
Students display the care packages they chose from the distribution table.

Dong earned a biology degree at Grinnell. She is one of the class agents for the class of 2017 and has returned to Grinnell for swimming reunions. As a student, she served on the Student Alumni Council and wrote for the Scarlet & Black newspaper.

“I find that being involved with Grinnell gives me a better understanding regarding the climate of the College and how students are doing,” Dong says. “I act as a bridge between the institution and alumni community to help inform people who might not be able to connect with the College. I also love visiting campus. I can’t help that; it’s so nostalgic.”

What started out as a spontaneous act of kindness from alums six years ago has turned into a much needed stress reliever for students. One of the best elements of the care packages is the timing of it, Dong says.

“It’s not only during the middle of winter, but students are prone to getting sick at this time, especially under the stress of exams,” she says. “Care packages offer a delightful element of surprise, combined with wellness products and toys that help relieve stress. It’s shows how alums care for the wellbeing of students.”

—by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

Alumni interested in sending care packages next year can join the Facebook group dedicated to the project. The Facebook site also has numerous photos, videos, and discussions about this year’s packages.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.