If you’ve ever had a loved one deployed overseas, you know just how important care packages are. You know because your loved one likely told you how much it helped, as well as how the things you sent were utilized — as reminders of home they hung on their bunk posts or carried into the field, as some unheard of but remarkably resourceful way to fix a wonky table leg, or, simply, as something that boosted their morale and the morale of their fellow troops.
So “the why” is there, present and resounding: care packages provide both comfort and joy to our deployed service members. “The what” is trickier, however — what can you send that will turn your loved one’s dark day into something bright? How can you make your care package epic!?
Going at it alone can be more of a frustrating experience than an enjoyable one. But that’s why we’re here. That’s why this list is here. On the pages that follow, you’ll find suggestions on what to send to your loved one, as well as how to package it. Because, as you’ll find out, the thing they remember most just may be the presentation itself!
The main thing to consider here is shelf life. Meaning: stick to food items that are either a) dry goods or b) non-perishable. Sadly, something like a bundle of bananas won’t make it unscathed (or fresh) to its destination. Depressing as that may be, trust us, your service member will love receiving the canned pears you send, or the bag of rice. Because, at least when they’re out in the field, they’re eating from a vacuum-sealed MRE; they’ll gladly welcome the change in flavor.
Another important thing to remember when selecting food to send is that, at times, your service member will have limited means to make the food. In other words, sending something that requires a conventional oven and several baking dishes may not be the best option.
Other foods to consider: breakfast cereals, honey, instant oatmeal, boxed and/or canned soup, boxed potatoes, cans of tuna, beef jerky, crackers, nuts, granola bars, raisins, various candies
Here’s where you and your service member can get a little more creative — you with the spices you select to send, and your service member with what they select to put on the standard-issued food. For example, if your service member likes a little kick in their food, send them some cayenne pepper. They prefer something zestier? Send some garlic salt. Believe us when we say that they’ll cherish it. Why? Because spices aren’t always readily available to them. Also: spices take up very little room, both in the box you’ll send and in what they’re temporarily calling home.
Other spices to consider: salt, pepper, cumin, lemon pepper, basil, dill weed, cinnamon, paprika, parsley, sage, ginger, rosemary, thyme
Remember when we said that care packages can turn a dark day into something bright? Hygiene is precisely where a shift like that can occur.
While deployed, your service member is physically active and, on occasion, not even a shower is readily available. Dealing with that, as well as with the elements (sun, wind, dust, dirt), can grind a person down. Hygiene products like hand sanitizer or mouthwash can do wonders in making your service member feel more, for lack of a better term, human. Foot powder or ointment will help take care of the irritation their boots keep giving them. A pack of aspirin will make it so they don’t have to go to Medical for a headache. The list can go on and on.
Other hygiene products to consider: deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, chapstick/lip balm, baby wipes, cough drops
-Odds & Ends
We promise: a roll of duct tape can go far. Like, really far. And so can something like headphones, for when your service member feels like being alone for a while with their music. For this section of the care package, think of the moments when your service member could be “in a pinch,” meaning: there’s something they need that wouldn’t be regularly provided by their branch.
Other odds & ends to consider: plastic baggies (for storage), pens, pencils, notepads, can opener, batteries, socks
CONTINUE TO “ENTERTAINMENT”
What various forms of entertainment can provide for our deployed service members is escape. Keep that in mind when selecting DVDs to send overseas. For example, it may not be the best idea to send along movies like The Hurt Locker, or Black Hawk Down. Instead, consider sending their favorite comedy, or a boxed set of their favorite TV show. You may just find your service member and their fellow troops requesting the next season!
Poker? High-low? Euchre? Whatever the name of the game is, give your service member and their fellow troops the opportunity to play it. It’s great for an escape, for making friends, and for team-building. Plus, it takes up very little physical space.
Assuming there’s a CD player somewhere in the vicinity, feel free to send those. But also consider sending an iTunes gift card that your service member can activate when they’re near an internet connection. That way, they can download what they like, when they like it.
It may be tricky to coordinate sending a local newspaper anywhere near the publication date, but we assure you: your service member wants to know what’s going on back home. Not only does it allow them to keep up on the times, but it also allows them to feel as if a little bit more of home is with them.
Is your service member a bookworm? Even if they aren’t, a book can be an awesome thing to send. Try to find something that not only will spark their interest, but something that, like movies, can provide some escape. Maybe even try sending them the first book of a series. If they like it, they’ll let you know and have something to look forward to with the next care package.
Car magazines? Bodybuilding? Fantasy sports? Send ’em! It doesn’t have to end there, though, with major publications you’ll find on news stands. Don’t forget about how much fun one can have with a book of word finds or crossword puzzles, both of which you’ll likely find at your local dollar store.
CONTINUE TO “LOVE”
Whether your loved one is your sibling or your spouse, a handwritten letter is one of the best things to include in a care package. They’ll read it and they’ll hear your voice. They’ll fold it up and place it in their pillow or their pocket. So even if letter writing isn’t something that comes naturally for you, give it a whirl. Tell them how much you miss them. Tell them how much you love them. Tell them what plans there are for the two of you when they return.
One simple idea is to decorate the inside of the box with the personal letter you just wrote, whether it be with the paper you wrote it on, or if you decided to take a sharpie to the cardboard itself. Or, you could be colorful! Want to send a lot of things at once, but separate the items themselves, hygiene from spices and whatnot? Well, buy ribbons and bows of various colors and bundle the appropriate items together.
Or, wrap each item with a different section of the local newspaper!
Is your loved one a jokester? If so, write jokes on each of the four flaps of cardboard.
Wait, wait, try this one: write a series of detailed instructions for how to appropriate open the things you’ve wrapped (1. toothbrush, 2. toothpaste, etc.).
Seriously, the possibilities for package design are endless. Just take a moment (or several) to think of what your loved one will smile at when opening the box. Because that’s what you want most: for them to smile.
Will your loved one be overseas for Christmas? For Valentine’s Day? Both? Well, prepare yourself to send along some decorations. For Christmas, send Christmas lights, or send them a stocking they can hang on their bedpost. For something like the 4th of July, send along twirlers or miniature American flags (don’t send fireworks… we repeat: DO NOT SEND FIREWORKS!).
Honestly, it seems as if there is always a holiday around the corner, which makes it easier to string your care package together with a theme in mind. Just make sure to peek at the calendar now and again.
-Send Them Home
We’ve saved our favorite one for last. And it’s simple! So simple we’ve broken it down step by step:
1) Go outside
2) Find a piece of home — this could be a rose petal from your garden, a pine cone from the front yard, a sea shell from the nearest beach, etc. Choose something small that will carry a lot of meaning.
3) Ready it to send — with something like a rose petal, it’d be best to let it dry out, but with something like a seashell, make sure to protect it appropriately with something like tissue paper or, again, newspaper.
4) Make sure it stands out in the package — again, get creative with the presentation! Fold the rose petal within the personal letter you’ve written. Tape the wrapped seashells to the insides of the box.
CONTINUE TO THE LAST PAGE
Now that you have a smorgasbord of items to choose from — items that you’ve successfully placed into the box you’d like to send — it’s time to go to the post office and ship that package out. Before you do, however, there still are some things to remember about shipping. Because, let’s face it, nowadays we live in a very digitized society; you may not have sent a package in quite some time. So, on we go!
Things to Remember About Shipping
Weight does matter — once you’ve chosen all of the items you’d like to send, you may find that it’d be best to send multiple packages, rather than trying to cram it all into one. In fact, it may be your only choice. You’ll need the exact weight of the package(s) prior to shipping, something we suggest you actually go to the post office to do, if only for precision. Weight will also determine what kinds of Customs Forms you’ll need to fill out.
2) Secure the items — with your clever packaging, you’ve probably already done this. But also, don’t forget to tape the outsides of the box. Your local post office will help with this as well. The last thing you want is your fragile items breaking when being loaded onto a vehicle.
3) Insurance — you can always put insurance on your package(s). Should you though? Well, that’s up to you. What you’re sending really is traveling quite a distance to get where it needs to go, so it’s never a bad idea. Also consider applying tracking and delivery confirmation to your shipment, as it’ll put you at ease knowing where the package is at all times.
4) ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS remember that your loved one will appreciate anything that you send. Can’t afford to send everything that you’d like to? Don’t worry about it. Send what you can.
Because we’re always looking for new things and new ways to send our troops care packages: