Although I was never deployed when I was in the Army, I married a combat soldier and had a brother and a daughter who both served in Iraq.
Love in a Box
When you love a service member, you know how important those care packages are. When they're halfway across the world, a letter or package reminds our troops of the reason they're there—to protect a treasured way of life for their families, friends, and complete strangers they will never meet.
Although I was never deployed when I was in the Army, I married a combat soldier and had a brother and a daughter who both served in Iraq. I'm not an enthusiastic shopper, and I don't feel confident about my ability to come up with creative gift ideas again and again, so I felt relieved when they told me what they needed.
They got some "pogey bait"—much-missed snack items that don't spoil easily, and bathroom essentials they wanted, but I struggled to come up with creative ideas. Recently, advocate extraordinaire Michelle, an avid Pinterest user, compiled a collection of cool plans for military care packages that caught my interest. I'm sharing ideas that I've found on her page, as well as some from other resources and my own experiences.
If you're trying to think of things you can do for your military spouse or child, these ideas are practically guaranteed to get your creative juices flowing!
Everyday Care Package Items
You don't always have time to get elaborate, so here is a brief list of items that you can send on a regular basis to help your troop feel your love. To make things easier on yourself, consider buying in bulk whenever possible and keeping care package items on hand to make it easier to ship them out regularly.
- Pogey bait: favorite brands of candy, bags of chips or jerky, granola or protein bars, packaged drink mixes, hot cocoa powder envelopes or chocolate milk mix, and cookies. Sunflower seeds, nuts, coffee, flavored powdered creamers, specialty teas, and certain canned goods can be great comfort foods, too. Consider the weather in their theater of operation before sending things that can melt!
- Home-baked treats: cookies, cupcakes, brownies, or Rice Krispies® treats feed a sweet tooth and can give you an opportunity to hide little surprises inside. Home-baked items require special consideration.
- Multi-use tools that put pliers, wire cutters, a saw, and more into your soldier's hand so he or she will be ready for unexpected events.
- Photos are always good and are easier than ever to send via cell phone. Consider printing them up for a month-by-month album that keeps your troop up-to-date on happenings at home by snapping shots of friends, family, and familiar places that are waiting for their return.
- Digital e-readers like the Kindle Fire let your loved one get the latest music and apps. Printed books and magazines can also help pass the time. (Some downloads cannot be accessed by persons outside the United States, so read product details before buying!) Local newspapers are terrific, too. Although we're in the digital age where most news can be accessed online, the comic strips and crossword puzzles are still classics.
- Personal care items. Stock up on sample sizes of lotion, talcum powder, antiperspirant, baby wipes, soap, and soothing sunburn balm. Fresh socks and bandannas are other frequently requested items. Personalized t-shirts can keep you close to his or her heart in a very literal way! You can purchase pre-made designs or create your own with Zazzle, where you'll find an easy-to-use template that lets you add photos and text.
- Entertainment items help your loved one pass the time easier. CDs, DVDs, playing cards, and travel versions of popular games like Yahtzee® are good items, and so are sports equipment like soccer balls, horseshoes, and footballs.
- Although it's more expensive, an iPad® or laptop computer will make it easier for your loved one to keep in touch and help him or her feel like they haven't left the civilized world entirely!
It's often better for a service member to receive smaller packages rather than huge packages. Space may be limited, especially for soldiers who are on the move.
Be certain to adhere to any regulatory requirements. In most locations in the Middle East, for instance, no alcohol, products containing pork or obscenity, or bulk religious materials will be delivered. If you're married, you've probably already received instructions for sending packages, but otherwise, you might be unsure. Ask your service member to provide you a copy of the requirements or call his or her unit to obtain the guidelines.
Finally, you'll need to complete a PS-2976 Customs Form. For tips on regulatory requirements, assembling your care package, and completing the form, visit Adopt A Platoon.
How to Send a Hug!
- Purchase a roll of paper from the party or office supply section.
- Have each member of the family lay on the unrolled portion of the paper with arms outstretched. Have another family member trace their shape (neck, shoulders to fingers, and back again) on the paper.
- Color or decorate as desired. Write personal messages of love.
- Cut out the shape, fold arms into a hug shape. (Optional)
- Roll the paper and secure it with a rubber band or other fastener.
- Fill inside of the rolled tube with candy and treats if desired.
See full tutorial with images at Roots and Wings Co.
Specialty Care Packages
There may be times when an ordinary care package just won't do. Birthdays and holidays may prompt you to send something a little extra special for your hero.
Creating a specialty care package isn't difficult. A little creativity in selecting the items you're sending and decorating the box are the two things that show you care in a BIG way.
Here are some ideas for specialized comfort.
- "Reasons I love you" box—decorate the inside of your shipping box with your list of reasons you love him or her. You can use fun markers to create lists to paste to the box's walls or line the box with sticky notes.
- Add special cupid touches to a regular care package by tucking hearts cut from construction paper in between the items you're sending. Add a personal message on each.
- If you're sending baked goods, use a cookie cutter or mold to create heart shapes.
- Send a dozen blank Valentine's Day cards, but only sign the one you want them to keep. The rest are for him or her to hand out to pals who would like to send one home to someone they care about.
- Write your story. This one takes a bit of planning because you'll have to order it ahead of time. Use Snapfish to design a custom paperback photo book that contains photos and text you put together detailing how you met, what you've built together as a couple, and places with special meaning. Photobooks cost about $25 for an 8x11" book.
St. Patrick's Day
- Go green, of course! Include only snack items and gifts that are in green packaging or feature green prominently, like choosing a green toothbrush, green mouthwash, spearmint gum, and Irish Spring ® soap. Pack the items in appropriately colored Easter grass. Don't be afraid to browse for cheesy, fun gift items like cheap, gaudy sunglasses or novelty pens. These inexpensive doodads will bring a smile to his or her face.
- Line your box with green tissue paper or wrapping paper, or paste shamrocks inside. You can find shamrock garland at most dollar stores or party suppliers for very little cost.
- Fill a box with small American flags your soldier can distribute among fellow soldiers to remember someone they've lost. Fasten a note to each one with a reminder like "Gone but not forgotten" or "All gave some. Some gave all."
- Donate to a veteran's organization from their unit on behalf of a fallen soldier. Have a plaque engraved to commemorate the recipient. Possibly send a memorial poem and/or card, too, all packaged with red, white, and blue tissue gift paper and ribbon.
- Select "All-American" snacks that feature red, white, and blue colors such as Cracker Jacks®, Rice Krispies Treats®, red and blue packages of drink mix. Add DVDs of patriotic-themed movies and a CD of patriotic songs, or other memorabilia based on the American colors.
Themed Care Packages
One military wife preferred creative, themed care packages. Check out seven great ideas she put together.
- Make a football-field-themed box for a fan of a particular team. You can include a cheer pom in the packaging, along with a Sports Illustrated magazine. You could also add a team schedule, photos of team members, or collectible sports cards.
- Use felt, construction paper, paint or markers, and glue to create similar ideas for other sports—recreate a golfing green and sandpit in a box; create a racetrack and include replicas of your guy's favorite NASCAR drivers; make a baseball field. Look for the kinds of doodads that'll liven it up, like baseball cards or figurines.
- Movie themes are easy to put together. A few DVDs and a favorite soft drink coupled up with snack bar items like microwave popcorn and candy bars will do the trick. You can use printed movie ads, old film canister images, or photos of movie popcorn to adorn the box.
Girls Night Out
- A local Walgreens drug store offered an inexpensive girls' night to my daughter. I packed some nail polishes, emory boards, single-use face masks, skin toner, hand lotion, and foot-massage cream for her to share with other female soldiers, then added some soft drinks and snack items. I didn't think of it then, but if I was doing it again, I'd adorn the box with paper doll and dress cutouts they could play with, too!
- Decorate a box with spiderwebs and plastic spiders, skeleton cutouts, or construction-paper headstones with funny messages. Find seasonal items at Walgreens or Walmart to add to your regular items, or go all out by re-creating funny recipes that can be adapted for mailing like these severed finger cookies. Don't forget the candy corn, but save some for your Thanksgiving care package, too!
- Michelle found a clever idea at Military Avenue: The sender added some fall foliage (in this case, a couple of orange and yellowed leaves that weren't yet dried out), a cornucopia of snack items, and business-card sized notes with messages of thanks the sender felt toward the soldier. "I'm thankful for your buns that I'll be squeezing in April" was what one of the messages said.
- Turn the box into a big turkey using the things we used in kindergarten to make turkeys. Paste construction paper feathers onto the box flaps and make a turkey head that is fastened to the inside of the box's fourth side in such a way that it will pop up when the box is opened. Silly, but fun.
- Send a care package for each of the 12 days of Christmas. Line each box with a different design of wrapping paper. Add a special festive item for each package: a mini tree on the first day, mini-ornaments for it on the second. A miniature stocking on the third. You can find plenty of Christmas ornaments to add on each of the remaining days, or add wrapped gifts in each of the remaining boxes.
- You can also put together a care package filled with holiday colors. Red and green M&M brand candies, peppermint sticks, marshmallow snowmen, green ornaments, and so on. Let your imagination wander. Add some glitter "snow" for extra fun.
Don't Know Any Service Members Personally?
Care packages are a great way to help service members feel appreciated and loved. Even if you don't have a loved one serving overseas, you can appreciate what the young men and women who've left their families behind are doing for those of us safely on U.S. soil by contributing to one of the programs aimed at providing care packages to troops.
If you feel awkward trying to send a package yourself or don't have the time and dedication to get it done, consider checking out the great organizations below that have developed programs dedicated to caring for our troops.
- Columbus Washboard Company
Ideal for soldiers who are away from home base for extended periods. Check with your service member before putting in a request for a high-quality, USA-made washboard due to limited space and usability, in case their unit has already obtained some.
Donate Care Packages and Specialty Items
- Pillows for Patriots
Your donation supports purchasing supplies to make and ship field pillows to service members.
- Green Beans Coffee
Your cash donation provides a lonely soldier with a cup of coffee and your personal note of encouragement and thanks. Choose to send just one cup for $2, or send 30 of 'em! Reach out to the guys and gals who don't get mail from home.
- Renaissance Knights
For every $20 Renaissance Knights receives, two chess sets are donated to an overseas military unit.
- Military Connections
Military Connections lets you sponsor Easter egg hunts and Girl Scout cookies for soldiers. For just $12.50, you can sponsor a case of these all-American goodies! The organization also donates frequent flier miles and has other programs available.
© 2013 jellygator
jellygator (author) from USA on October 21, 2013:
Thanks, ElleBee, and please do send them one! It means the world to receive reminders that someone's thinking and caring about them when they're so far away from all that's familiar!
ElleBee on October 21, 2013:
Great ideas. I really love the spa night idea, and may have to keep it in mind if I send any of my military friends/spouses a package.
jellygator (author) from USA on March 01, 2013:
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 28, 2013:
Great suggestions and the spirit behind this hub is excellent. Since the government won't take care of our own it is up to us.