Penn State students and community members work tirelessly to improve the lives of children and families affected by childhood cancer through THON. But Penn State’s local connection to childhood cancer goes even deeper through an initiative called the Jared Box Project.
The Jared Box Project was started locally in 2001 in memory of and in honor of Jared McMullen, a 5-year-old boy diagnosed with an incurable brain stem tumor in 1999.
Jared always carried a backpack full of toys [to the hospital], ”Said Cindy Kolarik, executive director of Jared Box Project. Jared actually saw other kids looking bored, sad, or lonely, and he shared his toys with them. That always stayed in the back of my mind. While he went through all of that, he was able to look around and take care of others. “
Kolarik, in collaboration with the children of Our Lady of Victory School at State College, has organized and delivered boxes to Geisinger Janet Weis Children’s Hospital as a one-time effort. Since then, the project has spread across all 50 states and nearly 350 partner hospitals.
Since the founding of the nonprofit, more than 900,000 shoe-sized plastic Jared boxes filled with toys, games, handwritten notes, and activities have been delivered to children in the hospital in honor of Jared’s spirit. Each decorated box is age specific.
While the scope of the Jared Box Project has reached unimaginable limits, State College groups, schools, churches and organizations are fueling the cause. Penn State fraternities, sororities, academic departments and athletic teams also play a role.
In recent years, groups including men’s volleyball, women’s softball, Sapphire, Nittany Lion Club, Supply Chain, Phi Beta Lambda, and more have been making boxes, running toy rides, and raising awareness for a good cause.
Penn State Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour and staff at a Jared Box making event.
To streamline the connection between Penn State and Jared Box Project, student interns from the nonprofit, most notably Alex Glasier, have established an officially licensed campus club dedicated to the project.
While the pandemic has been a wrench in planning in-person events, members of the club have had ample time to work with Kolarik to discuss future plans and outreach.
In particular, club members are interested in hosting a campus-wide Jared Box making event, introducing a “Jared Box Hour” -like event at THON, and inviting all alumni chapters to join along the way.
Sam Jokhi, the philanthropy chairman of the Phi Gamma Nu business fraternity, hosted a box-making event on campus this month, which is exactly what the club hopes to expand in the coming year.
In addition, the Jared Box Project club plans to involve the Commonwealth campuses in the case. A member of each campus could potentially be involved with the larger club in University Park and streamline the information in the state of Pennsylvania.
Club ambassadors will also reach out to new clubs and established groups in Penn State to provide them with information about the Jared Box project, host a box-making event, and assist with larger projects.
Members of the organization have become creative in their approach to affect the lives of others in difficult situations. Alivia Jacobs, a club member who helps with social media, explained the idea of making bags for students in quarantine and isolation in Penn State, similar to the Jared Box.
“The students in the dormitories went through similar situations to the children in the hospital,” Jacobs said. “It’s new, lonely and boring. You cannot leave your room. “
Bags provided by Cindy Kolarik to students in quarantine and isolation on Eastview Terrace.
Jacobs helped fill bags with crafts, coloring materials, and games to help students pass the time. Plus, they included items like hair ties because most of the students left for Eastview in a hurry and could have forgotten the little things that make their life easier.
“I am so inspired by how nice and caring people are,” said Kolarik. “You turn on the news and you get the feeling that there is so much hatred in this world. But when you go out and talk to the people, they are so willing to make boxes and love to help others. That brings me a lot of joy. “
Despite the hours of planning involved in the project, the members can no longer be humiliated by the reaction of the children and families who are in the hospital.
“[My favorite part] get pictures of children opening their boxes and smiling and hearing the parents’ perspectives of how the boxes have completely changed their posture in the hospital, ”said Jacobs. “What we do is make a difference.”
The next Jared Box Project Club meeting is on Wednesday, April 28. Interested students can apply for a online form for more information or view the Instagram page. Alumni, community groups and others can view the officer website to find out how to run a Jared Box making event.
Editor’s Note: The top image of this post is Penn State’s Gamma Sigma Sigma service sorority posing at a Jared Box-making event.
Colleen is a sophomore biology major from York, Pennsylvania and is one of Onward State’s associate editors. She makes too much use of the ~ tilde ~ and strives to be none other than the great Guy Fieri. Colleen fills her gas tank at Rutter’s, Pennsylvania’s superior gas station. Address any questions or comments [email protected]