When my husband was deployed, one of my favorite things to do was send him care packages. It made me feel useful – it was something I could do from home to make his life easier. Here are a few tips I learned over the years to make creating and sending care packages painless:
- USPS provides free supplies. Simply call 800-610-8734, select Order Supplies and ask for the Military Care Kit. It comes with flat-rate boxes, labels, forms and tape.
- Make the post office visit a breeze. I would send a package about every three weeks when my husband was in Iraq. I would typically fill a box up slowly and by the time it was ready to send, I forgot what was at the bottom. I eventually started to keep a sticky note on the top flap of the box and wrote down what went in so that it was much easier to fill out the custom’s form at the post office! Also, do yourself a favor and check the prohibited items list first. Half the contents of my first care package were rejected because I didn’t read the list.
- Utilize homemade gifts and online shopping. I make my own beef jerky and cookies and would send those items routinely (vacuum sealed of course), as well as other personal items like pictures, letters, funny little crafts or snacks. Everything else I ordered online. Many online sites even ship for free (on most items) to APOs and FPOs.
- Know what to send and when. In the beginning, my husband needed many of the basics but didn’t have a good internet connection. I had to order things for him like slippers, batteries (alkaline only), snacks and a small fan. I even ordered a mattress pad and had it shipped right to him for free. As time went on he needed less, and the packages took on a more fun and easy nature featuring a lot of kid’s crafts and drawings.
- Consider shipping time. Most packages can make it to the Middle East in about two weeks, but some take longer. If you have a specific deadline, plan ahead! Most of the time you can get away with shipping three weeks out, but during the holidays I would plan for up to five weeks. And of course, sometimes packages get lost. For three months after my husband’s unit moved to Syria, my family and I were sending packages and he didn’t receive any of them. Then about a week before he left that base, he got all 37 packages at once. He was a bit overwhelmed and ended up giving most of it away, but at least he did get them all.
- Be cautious about what you send. Sometimes packages get lost forever. I would recommend that you don’t send that priceless family quilt or the only photo you have from Nana’s wedding in 1934. Remember that sometimes these packages get opened by someone other than your loved one first, so don’t send anything you are not okay with someone else seeing.
Overall, I’ve learned to not stress when it comes to assembling and shipping care packages. Most service members just like receiving them, so don’t worry too much about what’s in it or how perfect the decorations are. Be thoughtful and have fun with it and they will know that you care!