When Janet Lipkin was in college, every week her parents mailed her a care package that contained a loaf of her favorite bread. Throughout the week, she enjoyed it, slice by slice. “It was a hug from my parents,” said Lipkin, who is from Concord, Mass. “I never forgot that.”
Now Lipkin sends packages regularly to her daughter, Heather, a Skidmore College student. “It just meant so much to me when I was away at school, and I wanted to do something like that for her,” Lipkin said.
Preparing and sending the packages also helps her feel closer to her daughter while she’s away.
Care packages started as a humanitarian effort during World War II. People in the United States shipped food and other supplies to their families and friends in Europe at a time when food was scarce. The packages meant the difference between going hungry or not.
Times have changed, but people continue to send packages to those away from home, relatives and strangers. The message is simple: I’m thinking about you.
A 12-day package
When Niskayuna resident Betsy DeGrush’s daughters started college, she used an idea she had seen in a magazine to send care packages for “the 12 days of college.” She gathered all kinds of items, from the practical to the silly, to fill small boxes.
There were rolls of quarters for laundry, lip balm, writing paper, a Zen garden, star stickers for the ceiling, eyeglass cleaner, gum, a Slinky and room decorations, among other items. She made up all the boxes, pre-paid the postage, and the post office mailed them out one day at a time so that her daughters received packages for the first 12 days they were away at school.
“It just made me feel better,” DeGrush said. “I felt like I was doing something and still connected to them.”
The packages had another benefit: They helped her daughters make friends in the dorm, as their classmates would stop by to see what had arrived each day.
The element of surprise is uplifting in itself when the recipient opens a box with no idea of what’s in it.
A lift for military
For military personnel deployed overseas, care packages — from home or from strangers — lift spirits as well as providing items that aren’t readily available to troops. Army Lt. Brittany Fearnside, who is deployed in Afghanistan, has received care packages to distribute to her unit regularly from the Capital Region NY2 chapter of the Blue Star Mothers, whose mission is to support the troops.
“These care packages are outstanding morale boosters and are often filled with letters from children and thank-you notes from the women that let every soldier know that their effort is valued and appreciated,” Fearnside said. Her mother, Karen Ferris-Fearnside of Schenectady, serves as the local chapter’s first vice president.
Receiving packages from strangers, not just loved ones, reassures military personnel that there are other people back home thinking about them, too, Fearnside said.
Kathy Buckley of Melrose began sending care packages when two of her sons were deployed with the military in 2001. When she learned that many of the soldiers overseas never received any packages from home, she started sending more — eventually more than 800 packages a month. She also founded Military Mom in Action, a nonprofit whose mission is to send care packages to military personnel serving abroad.
She collects donated items including granola bars, individual servings of Propel, packaged cookies, crackers, gum, hard candy, Tootsie Pops, packages of hot cocoa, individual packages of iced tea and beef jerky. “It’s anything that’s prepackaged individual servings — things they can stick in their pockets when they go out on a mission,” she said.
Buckley uses her day off from work at Lindsey’s Country Store to package them, with the help of volunteers. The items also have to be able to keep well and endure hot conditions.
In addition to “morale food,” there are other much-appreciated items that troops have difficulty getting overseas. Blue Star Mothers sends knitted hats that soldiers can wear under their helmets, crossword puzzle books, magazines, hand warmers for the winter, sunscreen, drink mixes to flavor the water in canteens (water can get warm and yucky tasting, Ferris-Fearnside said), Band-Aids, headache medicine and cough drops among other items.
Buckley keeps up the work because she doesn’t like the thought that there are men and women serving overseas who don’t receive any care packages from home. “Right now in one of the emails I just got, it said that because the war is not in the limelight anymore, the American people are starting to forget about them,” she said.
Ferris-Fearnside said that often families can’t afford to send packages, noting that there could be $50 to $100 worth of items in each packages, plus about $12 in postage. “We find that very often, when we are sending to soldiers, particularly younger soldiers, for whatever reason their families might not be able to afford to send them packages,” she said.
Some organizations take up fundraising to continue sending packages. On Saturday, July 13, Blue Star Mother volunteers will be sitting in front of Sam’s Club in Latham from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. collecting items for care packages as well as monetary donations to help pay for postage. They hand out lists of needed items to shoppers on their way in, encouraging them to donate on the way out.
Military Mom in Action also collects donations here, and Sam’s Club is supportive of the efforts. People are generous, Ferris-Fearnside said, and donations are welcome at any time, not just during collection drives.
Packaging is important, too. The Blue Star Mothers is sure to put items that might open, such as shampoo, into zipper bags. They wrap items that break easily into softer items — crackers inside socks, for instance — ensuring that they arrive intact and usable.
Military Mom in Action and the Blue Star Mothers have some tricks for helping to lower mailing costs. Buckley has been using Priority Mail Regional Rate Boxes, available only online from the United States Postal Service, which can be mailed within a 400-mile radius. If she buys the postage online, she saves 75 cents per package.
She will also pack several packages in a single box, saving postage.
The post office offers free Military Care Kits especially designed for sending care packages overseas. Each kit has two America Supports You large and four medium Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes, six labels, one roll of Priority Mail tape and six customs forms. Boxes going to APO and FPO addresses are discounted. The Military Care Kits can be ordered by calling 1-800-610-8734. USPS offers guidelines and restrictions for mailing care packages to military personnel overseas at www.usps.com/ship/apo-fpo-guidelines.htm?
Notes back and forth
In addition to food and other items, notes are an equally important part of care packages. Lipkin always encloses notes in the care packages she sends, telling her daughter know how much she loves her, that she’s thinking about her and how proud she is.
“This is just a way for us to let her know that even though we’re not physically together, our hearts are still with each other, and we’re here for her always,” Lipkin said.
Every package from the Blue Star Mothers and Military Mom in Action includes a note, many of which are written by local elementary schoolchildren. “These strike an emotional chord for many soldiers that have left children behind,” Ferris-Fearnside said.
The letters go both ways, too. Buckley’s inbox is full of appreciative emails with sentiments that range from “thank you for brightening my day” to “thank you for restoring my faith in humanity.”
The Blue Star Mothers read the letters from the troops at their meetings. “There is not a dry eye in the house,” Ferris-Fearnside said. “They are so effusive in their thank-yous and so appreciative that we’ve thought of them,” she said.
For more information on how to contribute to care packages for the troops and upcoming donation drives, visit www.militarymominaction.org and www.capitalregion2bsm.org.