Nowadays texts and social media comments may be the trend, but a Setauket church is keeping a cherished form of reaching out alive.
Recently, 107 students from the Three Village area attending college away from home received care packages in the mail thanks to 10 parishioners from St. James R.C. Church in Setauket. On April 13, the group filled boxes with goodies, including baked goods from 18 volunteer bakers. Once they sealed the packages, they delivered the boxes to the April 15, 6 p.m. Sunday Mass for service attendees to volunteer to take home and mail to the recipients.
For more than two decades, Mary Arasi has organized a group of volunteers in the spring and fall to create care packages for parishioners who are attending college away from home. Through the years the group has consisted of a variety of congregation members, from children to senior citizens, filling boxes with baked goods, snacks, a religious article and even copies of The Village Times Herald.
Arasi said she writes a note to be photocopied and included in each box and then asks the volunteers to add a postscript. She said she requests the senders to write something on the outside of the box, too. In the past, holiday greetings and shout-outs for local teams have been added to the notes and boxes.
“I feel that it’s really important the students know another person touched the box,” Arasi said.
Congregant Arlene Collins, a teacher at Sts. Philip and James School in St. James, said she has volunteered from time to time to fill boxes since 1997 when Arasi called her to ask for her oldest son’s college address. When her friend explained what she was doing, Collins decided to volunteer. She said she has known Arasi since their children were in nursery school, and the assembling of packages is the perfect time for the two to catch up with each other and others they have met through the years at the church.
“Every time I received a care package I had a moment of feeling really grateful that someone was thinking about me enough to send me something in the mail.”
— Kerri Farrell
Collins said all three of her children received packages during their college years until her youngest graduated in 2008, and they always looked forward to the packages’ arrivals.
“They were getting ready for finals, and a package would come, and they were so happy, especially with the baked goods,” Collins said.
During the last package assembly, the teacher said she was delighted to see the names of a couple of former students and included a note to say hello and wish them well.
Kerri Farrell remembered helping to assemble boxes when she was a teenager and receiving the care packages from the church when she attended college, starting with the 2004-05 school year. She said she was touched to receive them, especially during the first two years when she was feeling homesick.
“Sometimes when you’re in a new place and feeling overwhelmed, you forget nice little things like that because you’re caught up in the day-to-day stuff,” Farrell said. “Every time I received a care package I had a moment of feeling really grateful that someone was thinking about me enough to send me something in the mail.”
College students feeling overwhelmed or homesick is why Arasi said she keeps the care packages coming.
“If one of those boxes gets to a kid on a really bad day, and it made a difference that their church family cares about them, then it’s all worth it,” she said.