Chicken soup, cupcakes, but no ironing: Meet NU students’ new mom away from home

Read the full article as published in the The Daily Northwestern by Saul Pink, Print Managing Editor on September 26, 2023

Ten days after McCormick freshman Liv Bernstein said goodbye to her parents on Deering Meadow, she said hello to her “Northwestern mom” outside of McCulloch Hall.

Heather Metz, 48, had driven to Evanston from Wilmette on a sunny Friday afternoon, a dozen cupcakes — nut-free — in the back of her SUV.

The trip wasn’t an act of motherly love. It was an act of commerce — the first delivery of Metz’s new business. In June, she launched the NU outpost of mindyKNOWS, a service founded in 2019 at Washington University in St. Louis. Through mindyKNOWS, parents of college students can hire locals to perform tasks like picking up prescriptions, dropping off gifts and even delivering chicken soup for their child.

When Metz reached the North Campus dorm, she texted Bernstein. The first-year student, dressed in shorts and a white Budweiser T-shirt, exited her dorm room and descended the stairs to receive the cupcakes. They were a gift from Bernstein’s parents in New York City, a confectionary congratulations for completing her first week of college.

The two women chatted briefly about classes and dorm life. Then, Metz snapped a photo of Bernstein and the cupcakes, which she sent to Bernstein’s parents.

“I got to share [the cupcakes] with my roommate and my friends and they all enjoyed it,” Bernstein said. “So it was a nice thing to have.”

Metz’s business stands at the intersection of two defining features of college life in the 2020s: helicopter parents and swift delivery services.

“We are not Mom or Dad,” reads a card that Metz hands out to prospective clients, “but we’re the next best thing.”

The next best thing doesn’t come cheap: Metz’s services cost $55 per month, $500 a year or $1,850 for a four-year membership — plus delivery fees.

Her one-off offerings include an $85 Chicken Soup Care Package, which comes with a quart of hot soup, a loaf of bread, scones, juice and a handwritten note. Metz also offers a Cookie Care Package — which gifts students a personalized cookie cake, eight plates, napkins and a handwritten card for $75 — and a Happy Birthday Cupcake Care Package for $130.

Metz (right) hands cupcakes to Bernstein (left). It was Metz’s first delivery as part of a new business where parents of Northwestern students can hire locals to help their kids, from picking up prescriptions to celebrating birthdays. (Saul Pink/Daily Senior Staffer)
Although she hasn’t sold any memberships yet, Metz says the personal touch justifies the price tag.

“We can kind of touch base with your parents and be like, ‘I saw him from afar, he’s okay,’” she said.

Bernstein said she can imagine situations where having a local mom or dad like Metz could be helpful.

“One thing that you’re used to at home is like, when you’re sick, you can just tell your parents to figure it out for you,” Bernstein said.

mindyKnows — the brainchild of Mindy Horwitz — was born four years ago, after Horwitz’s son started at WashU. After seeing parents ask questions on Facebook that only a local could answer, she saw an opportunity to help people from out of town.

So far, Horwitz says, she’s helped hundreds of families. She bristles at the idea that her company is a concierge for the coddled.

“I think some people might have the wrong impression that we are preventing students from becoming independent,” Horwitz said. “Our students are independent thinkers … they navigate their own college experience.”

When Metz approached Horwitz about expanding to NU, Horwitz liked the idea because of NU’s many similarities to WashU, including large numbers of out-of-state and international students, she said. Metz also has a purple connection: She’s the wife of a Pritzker School of Law graduate and the daughter of an NU alum.

For now, Metz says she’s focusing on “getting the name out there” and hopes to land 30 clients by the end of the academic year.

Metz — the mother of three, including a son she just moved into his freshman dorm at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. — said she identifies with the label of “stand-in mom,” but she prefers “stand-in support.” She isn’t sure yet where she draws the line between being a local resource and overstepping into a college student’s life, but there’s one task that’s a dealbreaker.

“I don’t think we’re hand-holding,” Metz said. “I mean, I’m not ironing sheets.”