LGBTQIA+-themed care packages express support from network of alumni

Margo Gray ’05
    Margo Gray ’05

March 3, 2022 — Margo Gray ’05 knows the importance of positive affirmations. The increased cultural polarization they have witnessed in the world lately motivated them to create a unique way to connect with Grinnell’s LGBTQIA+ students to let them know they are supported well beyond the boundaries of the College’s campus. 

In the past, Gray has assembled and sent LGBTQIA+-themed care packages to students as a part of the Everyday Class Notes (ECN) care package project. This year, Gray created Team Rainbow to broaden their efforts. An additional 18 alums joined Gray and contributed toward the LGBTQIA+-themed care packages.

“I think about what I would have needed as a student,” Gray says. “It’s nice to have your identity affirmed, particularly after the 2016 election when people with marginalized identities were feeling more besieged. I want them to know that not everyone out there is questioning their identity.” 

Now in its eighth year, alumni pledged and shipped 1,500 care packages to campus. The packages were distributed to students Monday through Wednesday in the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center (JRC). To pick up a package, each student received a ticket in their mailbox. They brought the ticket to a distribution table where they could then select a care package. 

The idea for care packages started with a 2014 Facebook discussion in the alum group Everyday Class Notes, or ECN for short. Alums were reminiscing about the old Carnegie Hall mailroom where some of them received notes or small gifts from prior mailbox owners then paid it forward by sending something to the new mailbox owner after they graduated.

A selection of care packages with one proximately displaying it was created for a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Margo Gray ’05 and 18 additional alumni compromising Team Rainbow assembled LGBTQIA+ themed care packages for students.

It thrills Gray to select items and assemble the Team Rainbow packages. “I always put in one or two larger items like a mug or Pride flag along with a few rainbow-y things,” they explain. “I also do some without food for those who might have dietary concerns.” 

Gray’s especially excited about the various themed care packages they made this year from a “Gay Dungeons and Dragons” theme to Gray’s personal favorite, “Gay and Tired” that includes slippers, sleepy-time tea, and a sequined unicorn pillow.

In every care package, Gray includes a letter with their contact information along with stories about their time as a student at Grinnell. They understand that it can sometimes be lonely identifying as LGBTQIA+.

“I want students to know that there is a network of alumni who will support them, and I encourage them to reach out to us,” they say. 

Students look through the myriad of Everyday Class Notes (ECN) care packages
Students look through the myriad of Everyday Class Notes (ECN) care packages. Alumni shipped 1,500 care packages to campus this year. 

A Russian major at Grinnell, Gray almost double-majored in theatre until conflicting seminars their senior year forced a decision between the two. Russian won out mainly because the seminar included travel to Moscow. But the two areas coalesced the following year in a Fulbright Fellowship at the Moscow Art Theatre School. 

After getting a Master of Fine Arts in directing at Carnegie Mellon, Gray ended up back in the Midwest in large part because of the great theatre in the Twin Cities. “What clenched the decision for me was the strong Grinnell presence in the area,” they recall. “I joined a former roommate already living there who got me involved with a Grinnell bowling team. I’m bad at bowling, but it was mostly an excuse for Grinnellians to hang out together.” 

Gray works at the University of Minnesota as advisor to both the human sexuality program and the arts and cultural leadership program in the College of Continuing and Professional Studies. They also are the producing artistic director for the nonprofit Playable Artworks in Minneapolis. In that role, Gray focuses on interactive and immersive experiences from live to digital-designed to build empathy with the participants for unfamiliar experiences. 

“This is not the scary murder mystery theatre where you are pulled on stage,” Gray explains. “We make it easy for someone to have an experience outside of their own.” They showcased this work for the Grinnell community when Gray hosted a Grinnell Alumni Experiential College (ExCo) workshop in 2020. 

A busy person in their own right, Gray understands the busy lives people lead, so makes it easy to participate in the care package experience of Team Rainbow. Gray does a lot of the front-end work and puts out a request for donations. “People sometimes just contribute money and don’t need to do more,” they say. “But some also send messages that I add to the letter.” 

While mail has been the primary way alums get the packages to Grinnell, a parental effort this year helped with the transport. Swim team parents in various cities delivered ECN packages while in Grinnell for the Midwest Conference championships the weekend of Feb. 19. 

“In our city, a parent of a first-year student was pleasantly surprised to learn of the scope and scale of this endeavor,” Gray says. “It’s become a big team effort.”

— by Melanie Drake ’92

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 and discussions about this year’s packages.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive and like the Alumni & Friends Facebook page.