Armed Forces Day is a day to pay tribute to the brave women and men who serve in the United States’ military. During these times, soldiers and civilians alike must make sacrifices to help one another. Those at home may find themselves in the situation of wanting to contribute but being unsure how to go about it. To directly support the morale of a loved one in the military, sending a personalized letter can make a huge difference. Supporters who want to go one step further can put together a unique and individualized care package to help make deployment a little easier.
What Are Care Packages?
Care packages began in World War II, when the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe began packaging surplus military rations and delivering them to people in war-torn areas. When there was no more surplus available, CARE helped organize the first CARE package movement. Businesses could contribute money or food, and CARE packaged and mailed the supplies. When food was no longer a scarcity, CARE packages expanded to include recreational materials, like books and tools, and medical supplies.
Today, care packages are typically prepared by family members at home or community groups and sent to soldiers serving far away. They usually include food and snacks that will store well without refrigeration as well as items necessary for basic personal care, such as razors, body wash, and other toiletries. As with the original CARE packages, methods of entertainment, like movies and video games, are always popular inclusions. A care package can be designed to cater to the specific needs of any individual. Thoughtful packers will consider the soldier’s environment, military-issued supplies, hobbies, and food availability.
What to Send
While it can be tempting to heap home-cooked meals and treats into a box, the lengthy shipping time and lack of refrigeration make pre-packaged, shelf-stable snacks a better option. Personal letters and photos of loved ones would be special gifts, as would a favorite movie or book. If sending a care package to an unknown soldier, generic gifts may not seem flashy but can make a world of difference. Things like lip balm and muscle relaxant cream go a long way toward helping to make a deployment more comfortable.
Be aware that not all foods can be sent through the mail. Different countries and postal services have different restrictions, so before dropping a care package off at the post office, check online or with the military branch to make sure all mailed items comply with existing regulations. Avoid packing food in bags, since the different air pressure that comes from being carried via air mail might cause them to burst. Try to keep the needs of the service member in mind by packing snacks that can be easily carried and reliably stored.
Toiletries and other items may contain liquids. Check regulations to make sure they will be allowed, and take steps to prevent accidental spillage. Wrapping the top of a bottle with plastic wrap is a good way to ensure that a letter from home isn’t rendered illegible by wayward shampoo. As with food, the needs of the soldier should be considered when selecting items for a care package. If the soldier is stationed in a cold climate, hand warmers might be a nice treat. If the climate is hot or tropical, sunscreen or burn ointment could make the stay much more pleasant.
- Send a Care Package, Support a Soldier (PDF)
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- How to Make the Perfect Care Package for Troops
- Suggested Donated Items for Care Packages (PDF)
Many organizations, especially in the United States, facilitate the arrangement and delivery of care packages. Some even have services where, for a fee, they will take care of the entirety of the care package, from buying the items to addressing and sending the parcel. This can be useful for individuals who want to contribute but are unable to physically make it to a packaging location. These services can also widen the variety of items that a soldier receives, which helps keep a long deployment interesting.
Most organizations, however, seek to retain personal touches as an integral part of care packages. States, churches, community groups, and families make it a mission to put together care packages by hand. Drawings from children, letters from strangers, or small, silly toys help bring civilian life a little closer and help the soldier feel like they’re still part of the community. No matter whether a package is put together at a community drive or on the dining room table at home, soldiers around the world will be happy to receive a care package full of supplies and sentiments from loved ones.
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