October 3, 2012

Care Packages 101

If you're a military spouse, then chances are you've sent a few care packages in your time. Whether away at school, in the field, on staff duty, or during a deployment, our menfolk (or womenfolk!) can use a little TLC.

Care packages vary greatly. If the Hubs is headed out to the field, I usually gather a few snacks and treats for him, but nothing that he wouldn't want to carry around with him. For a long overnighter at the staff duty desk, I pack up a grocery bag of goodies including snacks, movies, and games.

However, deployment care packages are the Big Kahuna. They take time and thought to put together, and our soldiers especially need those reminders from home when they are half a world away. Depending on your location, the items you include in a care package will differ. For example, you don't want to send chocolate in the summer or to a hotter climate. Sometimes, the military prohibits certain items as well. You definitely don't want to get your soldier in trouble, so check with your FRG about any prohibited items before sending your package out.

There are all kinds of care packages. And there are many fun ways to get creative. Today, I'm going to focus on the basics, but keep a lookout for Care Packages 201, where I'll give you some cool inspiration for holidays, birthdays, and other fun events.

Getting started, you need the basics: a mailing box, labels, and tape.

I like to use the USPS Priority boxes for a couple reasons:
      a. If it fits, it ships!  This is a great advantage if you're shipping heavy items.
      b. Free box. No hunting for a box and worrying whether it will hold up. These boxes are free at your local post office.
      c. Discount! The rate for an APO/FPO box is currently $13.45, regardless of weight, which is $2 less than the regular rate for the same size box.

When you pick up empty boxes, also grab a handful of customs forms. It is much easier to fill these out at home, trust me. You're required to fill one out when shipping overseas, so don't forget! When filling out shipping labels, remember that you can no longer ship to "Any Soldier". The DoD requires that all packages be addressed to someone specific. If you're looking to help a soldier in need, but don't personally know any, there are many organizations you can work through. Check out this list of links on Military.com.

Keep in mind that shipping rules are constantly changing. You can check out the USPS restrictions here. For example, as of right now, lithium batteries are a prohibited item for international shipping.

Alternatively, some online stores will ship directly to APO/FPO addresses. Amazon can be a great resource. You can check out their restrictions here.

Once you've picked up your box and you know who you're shipping to, it's time to get busy with the goodies! Not all of the items here will be appropriate for every soldier, but it will provide a basic idea list.


 Everyone loves food gifts! Here are some popular requested items...

1. Pudding cups
2. Beef jerky / Slim Jims
3. Sunflowers seeds / Pumpkin seeds
4. Pretzels / Chips, like Pringles (bubble wrap to prevent crushing)
5. Soup cups / Ramen noodles (if canned, check for pull tabs)
6. Dried fruit / freeze-dried vegetables
7. Trail mix / Nuts
8. Pop Tarts
9. Chewing Gum (look for gum not packaged in foil to help prevent melting)
10. Snack Cakes (keep an eye on expiration dates! Packages can take up to 4 weeks to arrive)
11.  Gatorade / Kool Aid / Crystal Light / Mio
12. Cookies (bubble wrap to prevent crushing, check expiration date)
13. Candy (that doesn't melt!)
14. Cheez-its / Cheese crackers
15. Coffee (pre-ground)
16. Canned fruit (check for pull tab!)
17. Spaghetti-Os / Canned Ravioli, etc. (get the pull tab kind!)
18. Granola bars / Protein bars
19. Peanut butter / Nutella
20. Tuna (in pouches)
21. Hot chocolate packets
22. Spices (salt, pepper, etc)
23. Popcorn
24. Gummy snacks
25. Applesauce

This is not by any means a complete list, but hopefully it gets your creative juices flowing. Check with your soldier about their accommodations. This will help determine what items you can send. Does he have a microwave? Coffee pot? Can opener? These are important questions to ask.

A few tips? Stock up on your soldier's favorite items when you see them on sale. I keep a cabinet of 'deployment goodies'. Another great place is the Dollar Tree, especially for candy items. Be careful when packing your boxes... if you buy mint-flavored gum, then the whole box will be minty fresh by the time it reaches your soldier. No one likes mint-flavored jerky! A good way to avoid this is to separate your goodie boxes into categories. Maybe pack your mint items in with a toiletries box, instead of with the rest of the food.

One of my "goodie" drawers

Hygiene & Toiletries: 

These items will be super important for your service member. You never know what type of facilities they can expect, so it's better if they are prepared.

1. BABY WIPES - I'm putting this first and in capital letters for a reason. This is one of the number one most requested items. No running water? It's all good when you've got baby wipes.
2. Tissues
3. Deodorant
4. Toothbrush / Toothpaste
5. Dental floss
6. Razors / Shaving cream (must be in tubes, no cans)
7. Loofah (find a manly color, don't send your Hubs a bright pink one!)
8. Foot powder
9. Hand sanitizer
10. Eye drops
11. Dryer sheets (dirty clothes? Dryer sheets help everything smell better until laundry day)
12. Scope
13. Q-tips
14. Chapstick / Lip balm
15. Sunscreen
16. All-in-one shampoo and body wash
17. Dry Skin lotion
18. Cough drops
19. Aspirin
20. Manicure kit (nail clippers, etc)
21. Shoe inserts
22. Vitamins
23. Air fresheners
24. Cold Medication

Your soldier may have other items they need/want. Ask them before they leave. Ship these items before they are requested. If your soldier calls to say he is out of deodorant, it can take weeks before your package will arrive. Be smart, keep these items on a regular schedule.  Ziploc anything that may break or spill! Double-bag if necessary.


Although some of these items may seem frivolous, remember that our soldiers are away from home, pretty much working all the time. Any relief and entertainment they get is well deserved.

1. Books
2. Magazines
3. Newspapers
4. Movies
5. Hand-held game systems / games
6. Batteries (AA, AAA, and 9 volt are popular)
7. Sudoku / Crossword puzzles / Word Finds (puzzle books)
8. Disposable cameras or new memory cards
9. Dice
10. Playing cards
11. Board games
12. Footballs / Frisbees
13. Hacky sack
14. Dominoes
15. Gag gifts (water balloons/guns, whoopie cushions, silly string)
16. Pens / pencils/ markers
17. Notebooks / Journals
18.  Headphones
19. Holiday decorations
20. iTunes gift cards
21. Visa gift cards
22. Amazon gift cards
23. Phone cards
24. Dog treats (for strays)
25. Cards and letters (blank cards are great too, so they can send them to family)
26. Stamps
27. Videos of family / friends with messages
28. Stress balls
29. Candles
30. Flags
31. Posters
32. Cigars / Cigarrettes (check regulations on these items!)
33. PHOTOS (your soldier needs to feel involved in your life at home; send photos often!)

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, just suggestions. I'll talk more about sentimental items and special holiday items in coming posts. You can really be creative, think of things that are special to you and your soldier.

Sentimental gift - an engraved compass


Some items may need only be sent once, or only occasionally. For example, inflatable furniture can be a nice addition to any room, but you certainly don't need to send a new piece in every care package.

1. Sewing kits
2. Hairbrushes
3. Sheets / Pillows / Blankets
4. Extra socks / underwear / t-shirts
5. Bandanas (black, brown, or army green)
6. Backscratcher
7. Ziploc bags
8. iPod
9. Laptop
10. Bible
11. Paper plates / bowls/ napkins
12. Inflatable chairs / pillows, or butterfly chairs
13. Candles / matches
14. Flashlight
15. Cups
16. Good towels
17. Handmade items
18. WebCam

Your soldier may need other items that aren't listed. Always ask! What do you need? What do you want? What are you craving? These are all good questions.

TIPS & Tricks:

I'll leave you with a few helpful tips and tricks. If you have anything to add to these lists, or any suggestions, please comment below. Your ideas are important to me! I'll be back again soon with another Care Package post, this time focusing on making each package special and unique.

1. Keep it personal and upbeat! Your soldier wants to hear from you. He doesn't just want a box full of snacks. Always include a note or letter. Try to stay positive in your messages, your care package is supposed to be a bright spot in his day, not a sad one.

2. Don't send chocolate if it's going to melt! Try a few fun alternatives. M&Ms generally hold up well, as does chocolate syrup. Just be sure to package properly so any leaks don't ruin your whole box.

3. Check expiration dates, and assume your package will take at least six weeks to reach your soldier.

4. Pack items tightly and carefully! Don't leave too much empty space for things to roll around. If it might be crushed or broken, invest in bubble wrap.

5. Listen to what your soldier has to say. Does he need shaving cream? Food? Does he want more photos? Pay attention, and try to send him what he needs.

6. Consider what facilities your soldier may have access to... i.e. don't send microwave popcorn if there is no microwave.

7.  If you're worried about a scent permeating your box (or if you want to send something that smells of your perfume), consider a vacuum sealer.

8. Think about including an extra mailing label in the box. If your package is damaged, or the label can't be read, then it can still be sent if the label on the inside is intact.

9. Check all your labels before sending. Ensure all is correct!

10.  Consider sending extra boxes to your soldier that he can share with others.

Deployments are never fun, but do your best to keep the relationship strong. A care package can mean everything to a soldier. Remember that they are away from home, and you both need this type of contact. Send your soldier empty cards and stamps, so he can send you letters in return. Love one another, and know that this separation is temporary.

An army spouse can do anything, even this! Care Packages 201 will be coming soon. Please share your ideas, tips, and tricks in the comments below.

Thanks for reading, everyone! 
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1 comment:

  1. The baby wipe font size.could have been doubled! One of Paul's favorite packages included a video of photos and home movie clips put to "our song." This project took me a few hours and it was a bit of a tear jerker, but it meant a lot to my soldier. To fill in and not be too sentimental, I sent videos of funny moments caught on camera, i.e. the cat chasing acrossed the linoleum after his toy only to crash into the washing machine. a laugh from home could easily make his day :)

    Great post, Allie! You are a great resource for military families!