When I moved into my office and started opening drawers and moving things to the storage room, I found a huge bag of peppermint candies. I mean, HUGE. I had no idea how long it had been there, but I knew for sure that it would take me approximately 10.4 years to eat them all myself. I closed the drawer and only opened it sporadically to placate sugar cravings I couldn’t ignore.
At one point my grandmother had given me a nice, copper colored pumpkin. It was big and heavy and had a handle and a jack-o-lantern face. Not being a person who can effectively say no to her grandma, and also not being a person who does much holiday decorating, I brought it to the office and plunked it on my desk around Halloween. It looked empty, so I dumped the peppermints into the pumpkin. Every now and then, a student who came to my office for help would ask if they could have a peppermint. “Of course!” I said. “That’s what they’re there for!”
Halloween passed the the pumpkin looked out of place, so I turned out the peppermints onto my desk and decided to bring something else to work to hold them. Well, I forgot. I kept forgetting, and the pile of peppermints on my desk was pretty conspicuous. Soon, traffic increased. Students would come into my office for a quick chat and a peppermint. Students looking for help would often leave with a handful. Even faculty and staff started stopping by when they spotted the pile in the window. They would carefully comment on the size of the pile with subtle undertones questioning my sanity, but they always left with a peppermint and a smile. We would chat, and they would remember me.
Yesterday I gave a number of library orientation workshops for students new to the college this semester. In one session, as I was explaining the location of my office a student interrupted to ask, “Is you office the one with the huge pile of mints?” And today, a student interrupted me while I was on the phone to ask if she could have a mint. While I could take issue with execution of basic manners by interrupting someone on the phone to ask for candy, I can’t deny the steady parade of people through my office.
I’m at a loss to explain why my most effective outreach effort to date is an accident involving a massive and well-placed quantity of undated peppermint candies. I mean, I don’t even think peppermints are particularly desirable as candy, or maybe that’s just my bias. I’m guessing that the size of the pile, now quite diminished but truly remarkable in its heyday, and the visibility of my office had something to do with it. People come just to say, “Wow. That’s a lot of peppermints.” Whatever the reason, I’m not sure I can take credit but I’m definitely grateful.