Jared Box Project’s Penn State Connection Expands With Newly-Established Club

Penn State students and community members work tirelessly to enhance the lives of children and families impacted by childhood cancer through THON. But Penn State’s local connection with pediatric cancer runs even deeper through an initiative called the Jared Box Project.

The Jared Box Project was started locally in 2001 in memory and honor of Jared McMullen, a 5-year-old boy who was diagnosed with an incurable brainstem tumor in 1999.

“Jared always took a backpack filled with toys [to the hospital],” Jared Box Project Executive Director Cindy Kolarik said. “Jared actually noticed other kids that looked bored or sad or lonely, and he shared his toys with them. That always stuck in the back of my mind. Even though he was going through all that, he was able to look around and care for others.”

Kolarik, in collaboration with the children at Our Lady of Victory School in State College, organized and delivered boxes to Geisinger Janet Weis Children’s Hospital as a one-time endeavor. Since then, the project has spread to all 50 states and nearly 350 partner hospitals.

Since the nonprofit’s inception, more than 900,000 plastic shoe-sized Jared Boxes filled with toys, games, a handwritten note, and activities have been delivered to children in the hospital in honor of Jared’s spirit. Each decorated box is specific to age.

While the scope of the Jared Box Project has reached unimaginable bounds, State College groups, schools, churches, and organizations fuel the cause. Penn State fraternities, sororities, academic departments, and athletic teams play a role, too.

In recent years, groups including men’s volleyball, women’s softball, Sapphire, Nittany Lion Club, Supply Chain, Phi Beta Lambda, and more have created boxes, held toy drives, and raised awareness for the cause.

Penn State Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour and staff at a Jared Box-making event.

To streamline the Penn State and Jared Box Project connection, student interns of the nonprofit, specifically Alex Glasier, launched an officially recognized campus club dedicated to the project.

Though the pandemic has put a wrench in planning in-person events, members of the club have had ample time to work with Kolarik to discuss plans for the future and outreach.

In particular, club members are interested in hosting a campus-wide Jared Box-making event, introducing a “Jared Box Hour”-esque event during THON, and inviting all alumni chapters to get involved down the road.

Sam Jokhi, the philanthropy chair of Phi Gamma Nu business fraternity, organized a box-making event on campus this month, which is exactly what the club hopes to expand on in the coming year.

Additionally, the Jared Box Project club plans to involve the Commonwealth Campuses in the cause. A member of each campus could potentially be involved with the larger club at University Park and streamline information across the state of Pennsylvania.

Ambassadors of the club will also be reaching out to new clubs and long-established groups at Penn State to give them information about the Jared Box Project, organize a box-making event, and assist with larger projects.

Members of the organization have gotten creative in their approaches to impact the lives of others going through tough situations. Alivia Jacobs, a club member who assists with social media, explained the idea of creating bags for students in quarantine and isolation at Penn State, similar to the Jared Box.

“The students in the dorms were going through kind of similar situations to kids in the hospital,” Jacobs said. “It’s new, lonesome, and boring. You can’t leave your room.”

Bags delivered by Cindy Kolarik to students in quarantine and isolation at Eastview Terrace.

Jacobs helped fill bags with arts and crafts, coloring materials, and games to help students pass the time. Additionally, they included items such as hair ties because most students left for Eastview in a hurry and could’ve forgotten the little things that make their lives easier.

“I’m so inspired by how kind and caring people are,” Kolarik said. “You turn on the news and get the feeling that there’s so much hate in this world. But if you get out there and talk to the folks, they are so willing to make boxes and love being a part of helping others. That, to me, brings me great joy.”

Despite the hours of planning that goes into the project, its members couldn’t be more humbled by the response from the children and families that are in the hospital.

“[My favorite part] is getting pictures of kids opening their boxes and smiling and hearing parents’ perspectives of how the boxes have completely changed their attitude while in the hospital,” Jacobs said. “What we’re doing is making a difference.”

The next Jared Box Project Club meeting is on Wednesday, April 28. Interested students can fill out an online form to get more information or check out the Instagram page. Alumni, community groups, and others can check out the official website to find out how to set up a Jared Box-making event.

Editor’s note: This post’s top image is Penn State’s Gamma Sigma Sigma service sorority posing at a Jared Box-making event.

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About the Author

Colleen Nersten

Colleen is a washed-up biology grad and former associate editor. Her legacy will live on through stories like “10 Questions With State College Sensation ‘Hot UPS Bae’”. If you’re a STEM girlie, this is your sign to take the leap of faith and learn to write. It’s pretty fun. Colleen misses the hate mail and can be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

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