From Bubblegum to Butterflies

Care package project connects students with alumni
Kathryn Devany DiFoxfire Wilson ’93

Last spring, I participated for the first time in the Everyday Class Notes (ECN) care package project and found it was a wonderful way to connect with current students, in more ways than one.

ECN is a Facebook group of Grinnell alumni of all ages who regularly communicate, celebrate, and sometimes commiserate our everyday lives after Grinnell. Since 2014, a subset of that group has provided care packages to current students as a way to support, encourage, and connect with them (usually in February to help alleviate midterm stress). Some alumni also team together to fund items or shipping costs or to do the shopping, packaging, gathering, delivering, distributing, etc. The packages are as diverse as our alumni community and might include snacks, sweets, games, activities, toiletries, winter gear, blankets, ethnic foods, gift cards, and more.

I included a letter with each of my packages, detailing my time at Grinnell (1989–1996), offering advice, sharing insights, telling stories, and including an invitation to look me up if they are ever in the greater Seattle area. Sometimes students write back, which is a delight in itself, but I got a special treat in October 2018 when Michi Soderberg ’21, who had received one of my Asian-themed packages, flew out during Grinnell’s fall break to visit a friend of hers who is a student at the University of Puget Sound. While her friend attended classes, I played tour guide and took Michi to Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market.

Since Michi hails from the upper Midwest, it was such a delight to introduce her to the sights, sounds, and even smells of the Pacific Northwest: salt water, seagulls, ferry boats, and the delicious smells of the market. We visited the infamous Bubblegum Alley (where tourists stick chewed bubblegum on the brick walls of a “hidden” back alley), watched fish vendors throwing fish (a very iconic market scene), and hiked down (and up) hundreds of stairs to the waterfront and back.

We also feasted our way from one end of the market to the other. We snacked on salmon jerky from the famous Pike Place Fish Market, salmon-filled pastries from Piroshky Piroshky (a Russian bakery), Greek yogurt from the corner market, cheese crackers from locally-famous Beecher Handmade Cheese, assorted chowders from the award-winning Pike Place Chowder, pumpkin cheesecake fudge from a local chocolatier, and sampled what Michi described as the best tea she’s ever had from a tea-tasting vendor called Vital-T-Leaf.  

 We also rode the Monorail to the Space Needle and the Butterfly Garden at the Pacific Science Center, and even made a side trip to Daiso (the Japanese dollar store), where I picked up a few things for the next round of care packages. Like me, Michi also is of Japanese heritage, so that was a treat for both of us.

The weather even cooperated. It was an unusually dense fog for most of the day, so Washington State’s iconic Mount Rainier wasn’t out, but the notorious Washington rain held off until we were done … and I didn’t even get lost navigating my way out of Seattle’s maze of crooked four-, five- and even six-way intersections and one-way streets.  

The best part, of course, was being able to share stories of Grinnell then and Grinnell now and realizing that even as Grinnell evolves, some things — like the ability of Grinnellians to connect with Grinnellians — remain the same

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