By Guest Blogger Alexandra Walser

When our oldest started college, we eagerly joined the parent Facebook page, researched the area, got excited with every mailing (after that tuition bill, anyway) – typical freshman parents! One envelope offered “Student Treat Packages,” showing photos of cute themed baskets. The selections included “Move-In,” “Midterms/Finals,” “Birthday,” and every day in between. We thought it was a great idea, but weren’t sure she’d want Goldfish crackers, cocoa packets and squeezable stress balls for every Hallmark occasion, and then some. I knew I’d be sending treats; even FaceTimes, texts and Snapchats don’t beat mail. How many packages would be adequate? What if we sent one, or two – but her roommate got 6? Hmmm…The pressure was great. I ended up buying 3, for about $110. Our daughter enjoyed every one, but they weren’t anything special.

We realized we’d fallen for great marketing, geared towards proud/guilty parents who want to show their kids they’re loved. We decided not to do it again, even for our second daughter, who started school a year later.

The gift delivery business has exploded way beyond flowers and balloons. Cute, elegant or business-like packages start around $19.95 + shipping/delivery charges. I have appreciated the convenience of being able to send something “different” to friends and family who live too far to visit in person. For our girls, though, we found the packages impersonal. I love to find a silly card or unexpected treat perfect for a specific person, which a pre-made box just can’t offer.

A few days later, I was looking for things to send the girls to wish them well on finals. I had just caught up with a friend who’s son, a good friend of our freshman daughter’s, was also going through his first college finals.  We talked about getting together, and I threw an idea by her…and that’s how “Sangria Sisters College Finals Treat Bag Night” began.

I mentioned the idea to a few other friends, then Facebook messaged about 20 women-some I’d spoken to regularly, some I’d lost touch with, some acquaintances. Everyone agreed to bring one item for each bag (those of us with 2 kids brought 2 items, etc.). I asked for a few dollars or a toy from anyone who wanted to donate to a local charity, from the group.  A few days before our event, I let everyone know how many bags we’d be making.

I made appetizers, put out some drinks – then decided to make a pitcher each of white and red sangria, and put on Christmas carols, because,well, the Holidays…

We talked and laughed so much that it took us quite a while to settle down, but we eventually lined everything up, grabbed a bag, and threw in candy, gum, snack-sized bags of cookies and crackers, bubbles, Silly String, light-up Christmas necklaces, printed funny and inspirational quotes, and much more. One friend brought adorable picture frames.

When we took a picture (with a life-sized cardboard “Buddy the Elf, because, again, the Holidays…), someone suggested we name the group. We’d been laughing all night about being out, drinking Sangria, on a work/school night, and, mostly, how great it was that we took the time to get together. From all of that , someone came up with “Sangria Sisters.” That name didn’t come from revolving a night around the punchbowl , but from 1000 laughs, from a few moms who needed time together -and made it happen, who spent a night bonding over our love for our kids, while feeding our own souls a little-and, even better, we ended up with donations of toys and enough money to buy a few great gifts, which we donated, with the leftover treats, to the local Catholic Social Services. Some stayed late, catching up and laughing for hours after we should have been asleep.

The next two events brought return moms and new faces, all excited to be a part of the fun. We’ve also all enjoyed making this a night to help our community. On our second night (spring finals), we bought art supplies for a local foster children’s center. On our third, we collected money and non-perishables/personal care items for a local group home. The women I dropped that donation off with were so grateful for our little contribution. That feeling stays with me; I am so thankful for this ever-evolving group. I can’t explain what I get in return for providing a little food and some sangria.

Some tips:

Plan ahead! People have a lot going on. A weeknight or weekend afternoon might be best;

You need an RSVP date, but ask people to bring a few extra items for anyone who can show up last-minute. Overages can given as part of the donation;

Finals dates vary widely. Hold the event at least a week before the first finals week begins (factor a few days for mailing), so everyone gets his or her bag before studying starts;

Have fun and be creative! One mom brought candy cane cups, and wrote a funny note about using them wisely, after finals – the kids loved it;

If anyone wants the bag to be a surprise- agree to no posts until everyone has shipped her package out. Make sure kids who get packages earlier than others don’t tell;

Consider using flat-rate USPS Priority Mail boxes to contain shipping costs (under 70 lbs). A typical medium-sized gift bag (8” x 4” x 10”) fits well in a medium box; shipping is $14.35 (small – $7.90); a large flat-rate box, if you want to add more items, ships for $19.95;

Now we’re on for “Sangria Sisters College Finals Treat Bag Night – Take 4.” There’s been talk of adding moms who don’t have college kids…but I love that the conversations on these nights are about moms who are missing their kids, and talking and laughing about things only moms with kids away at college really get. The options are endless – all I can say is, you need to start planning 🙂

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