For decades, sending care packages has been a popular way American Legion Auxiliary members and volunteers have shown support and love for our nation’s military servicemembers deployed abroad. Getting goodies, necessities, and kind messages from back home can be a comfort to them.
But before that first care package is assembled and mailed, there are some things to consider. What do our servicemembers need or want? What can and can’t be sent to troops in certain locations? Who do we send the package to?
Here are a few tips to get your unit started on its care package program.
Who to Send To — The packages have to be mailed to a specific person. You can ask around your neighborhood, churches, etc. to find families who have a loved one who is a deployed servicemember. Or, you can try a website such as Anysoldier.com, which is operated by the nonprofit organization Any Soldier Inc., for this and other information about sending care packages to troops.
Ask the servicemember to whom you are sending packages to let you know a few months in advance if he or she is leaving their military unit, and if there is another person (a chaplain, for instance) to whom you can mail future care packages.
What to Send — Take a cue from the USO. This not-for-profit’s care packages to troops includes items such as collapsible water bottles plus any or all of the following types of goodies:
- Pre-packaged individual-sized healthy snacks: Examples — jerky (read the ingredients, as pork products are prohibited in some countries), trail mixes, granola bars, and fruit snacks.
- Drink mix packets: Examples — Gatorade, lemonade, iced tea, and powder drink mixes. Include a few sugar-free options as well.
- Microwavable, pre-packaged food: Examples — dried boxed pasta dishes like macaroni and cheese, popcorn, dried noodles, canned pastas, oatmeal packets, and other snacks that come in their own bowl. Remember: Dinnerware can be scarce in some locations, so ask whomever you are sending things to about this.
- Non-perishable, pre-packaged food: Examples — canned/packaged tuna, fruit cups, peanut butter, soups, and other canned foods.
- Pre-packaged, individually wrapped chocolate candies or bars: Wait until the winter months to send chocolate, as it will melt in the mail other times of the year. Be mindful of the climate at the destination as well.
- Toiletries: Travel-size shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, body wash, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, and other hygiene items. Put these in packages separate from the food.
Check the expiration dates on all items and avoid sending items that expire in six months or less than your shipping date. You never know if there are any delays in getting the package to its destination.
Include a brief note letting the recipient know that your ALA unit has sent that care package. The note might also briefly explain how someone from your unit can be reached, and whether you would like the recipient to share the package contents with others in his or her military unit.
What NOT to Send — There are numerous restrictions on what can be shipped using the U.S. Postal Service. Plus, some international governments prohibit certain products from coming into their countries.
Educate yourself on what can be shipped through USPS. Talk to an employee at your local post office, or visit www.usps.com/ship/shipping-restrictions.htm. This site also has a long, but maybe not completely inclusive, list of what items various nations prohibit from coming into their country. Read the ingredients of the food items being sent to make sure nothing being sent contains something prohibited at the destination.
Read about care package programs carried out by other ALA units. Visit the blog about Texas Cards for Troops, which involves sending goodies, toiletries, and greeting cards to deployed servicemembers.
Also, check out the February 2019 edition of Auxiliary magazine to learn about another unit’s program, The Troop Group, which has been sending care packages to deployed U.S. servicemembers for nearly 15 years.