Receiving a care package from home can be a real morale booster for a deployed service member. Choosing, packing, and receiving the contents of the package is also a way to stay connected with your loved one. Your service member will undoubtedly appreciate anything you send, but some things are particularly useful, and some items can't be sent at all. Before putting together your service member's care package, find out what he or she wants, and check to see if there are restrictions on what you can send.
Priority mail packages take up to fourteen days to reach their country of destination. Depending on where your service member is, more time may pass before the package is in his or her hands. When choosing what to send, keep in mind possible delays as well as any climate extremes to which the package may be subjected.
- Check on size and weight restrictions for packages. Packages cannot be larger than 108 inches in total circumference (total width all the way around plus total length all the way around), but your service member's unit may have its own restrictions on the weight and size of packages. These restrictions may change as the unit changes location. It's best to limit your care packages to the size of a shoebox. You can pick up free priority mail boxes at your post office. Use the #4 or #7 size box. The U.S. Postal Service also offers a free "Military CAREKIT" containing mailing supplies for military families. Request one by calling 1-800-610-8734.
- Enclose a card listing the contents of the package. Include the recipient's name and your name on the card. That way, if the package breaks open and the contents scatter during shipping, mail handlers will know what to repack.
- Place items that may spill or leak in heavy plastic zipper-lock bags. Freezer bags work well and your service member will likely find other uses for the bags.
- Use reusable packing material. Cushion fragile items with small packages of tissues, copies of the local newspaper, plastic zipper-lock bags filled with popped popcorn, small beanbag-style stuffed toys (for your service member to hand out to local children), or anything else you can think of that your service member will be able to use.
- Write out the complete address. The address should include your service member's full name (with or without rank or rating), unit name, and the Air/Army Post Office or Fleet Post Office (APO/FPO) address. Be sure you have the unit name, including the battalion, ship, squadron, platoon, etc. with the nine-digit ZIP code, if one is assigned.
- Number your packages and letters. Some may take longer to arrive. Numbering them will alert your service member to letters and packages that are still on their way.
Food and drink
You'll want to be careful about the food and drink you send. Avoid sending anything that may spoil or melt in a hot environment because the temperature inside mail storage facilities can rise to over 120 degrees. Here are some proven suggestions:
- Powdered drink mix. Your service member will appreciate anything that can be mixed with water. In cold months, send hot beverage mixes such as cocoa, instant coffee, tea bags, and creamer. During warmer months, sweetened drink mixes such as lemonade and iced tea will be welcome.
- Meal enhancers. Anything that can be mixed with meals ready to eat (MREs), such as ramen noodles, seasoned salt, and packets of hot sauce, mustard, relish, and ketchup is appreciated.
- Quick protein. Energy bars, tuna fish, sardines, non-perishable beef jerky, or beef summer sausage. Make sure the meat is labeled USDA.
- Snacks. Look for small, hard containers of chips, pretzels, and nuts. These are easier to carry than large containers. Avoid bags, which may burst under high pressure. If you do send large bags or containers, include small zipper-lock bags so your service member can pack smaller amounts of snacks to carry. Snack cakes, cheese crackers, and cookies are in high demand.
- Candy and gum. Gum and other types of candy may soften and become gooey, so send these in plastic zipper-lock bags. Send plenty of extras for your service member to share, especially if he or she comes into contact with children. Avoid chocolate if your service member is in a warm climate. It will melt in the heat.
Personal care and clothing
Choose small, travel-size containers of personal care products and avoid aerosol cans.
- Toiletries. Items such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, cotton swabs, shaving lotion, disposable razors, shampoo, and individually packaged tissues are great items to send.
- Personal care. Individually packaged baby wipes, eye drops, lip balm, lotion, aspirin or other pain reliever, feminine hygiene products for women and foot care (moleskin, medicated foot powder, athlete's-foot ointment, etc.) are extremely helpful.
- Disposable hand warmers. If the climate is cold, send hand warmers, fingerless gloves, stocking caps, and long underwear.
- Cotton socks and underwear. Make sure the garments are made of 100 percent cotton rather than a cotton blend.
Entertainment and communication
These items are popular with deployed service members:
- paperback books, current magazines, comic books
- crossword puzzles, word searches, jigsaw puzzles
- foam footballs and basketballs, Frisbees, Hacky Sacks, playing cards, yo-yos, and other games
- portable DVD player, CD player, DVDs, CDs, handheld electronic games
- disposable camera
- notepaper, envelopes, pens, pencils, and stamps
- phone cards (shop around to get the best deal on overseas minutes)
Instead of sending bulky items that you're not sure will be welcomed, consider sending your service member a gift card to the exchange. You can purchase one online.
Reminders of home
In every care package, be sure to include a personal note or other special reminder of home. Photographs, drawings, and videotapes of your activities at home will be comforting to your service member. Here are some more ideas:
- your children's art projects or schoolwork
- a small scrapbook filled with mementos from home
- a homemade CD of your service member's favorite songs
- the Sunday comics from your local newspaper
What not to send
There may be items you cannot send, depending on where your service member is located. Check with your Key Volunteer, Ombudsman, or command family support group point of contact for details on further restrictions.