The day my son told us he was being deployed, I decided I would be the best “P & P” (prayers and packages) mom possible. The prayers came easily since I had always prayed for my children, but the thought of care packages baffled me. I soon learned there was much more to it than what to send or not to send. The delivery time, weight limits, how often to send packages, the size of the items sent, how to pack and seal the boxes, were more of the questions I encountered as I began this part of being a military mom.
Through his two deployments as well as packaging and sending hundreds of boxes from our support group and local churches, I learned a few tips that I’d like to share. First and foremost be sure to have the complete and correct overseas address. If you aren’t provided this before they leave, you should get it from your loved one or the FRG or FRO within a couple of weeks. If not, contact them to get it because receiving packages is a boost to the troops and since they will be limited on what they take with them they will need the items you will be sending.
Next, be sure to use the flat rate boxes provided free of charge from the United States Postal System. These can be picked up at any post office or ordered online at USPS.com and delivered right to your door. The great thing about these boxes is that they are sturdy and, regardless of the weight, the shipping cost is the same. These boxes may look small, but believe me you can fit a lot of stuff in them and the more of them you pack the better you’ll get at packing.
How you pack and seal the boxes is just as important as the contents in the boxes. To ensure no spills and that none of the strong scents infiltrate the snacks, I separated the food items from the hygiene items by putting all non-food items in separate zipper bags. The zipper bags can then be reused by the troops. I realized after the first couple of months that it was easier to alternate sending snacks and hygiene items in order to prevent his having an over abundance of either. To fill in smaller places in the packages remove small snack and miscellaneous items from their packaging stuffing it where needed. You can also use air popped popcorn or Styrofoam peanuts. The tighter the stuff fits in, the better it will tolerate the rough treatment it may receive during transport. Then, when sealing your packages, be sure to put the packaging tape on every seam in order to keep as much sand, moisture and even possibly small insects out of the boxes.
Because our son was out on missions for weeks at a time he would receive several packages at once. For this reason, I put the date on the bottom of each box so he would know the order they were mailed. This is especially helpful if you are sending any homemade treats, allowing them to eat the oldest ones first, and decide if the items may be spoiled.
To keep track of the items I sent and when, I made a master list of the basics that I wanted to send regularly. I would fill out a sheet for each package and write in any other miscellaneous items. This gave me the assurance that he wouldn’t run out of the items I knew he’d need while relieving my brain of trying to keep track of what I sent when. I kept a copy of the list in my purse making it available anytime I shopped.
I admit that I took the promise I made to myself to become a great ‘package mom’ to an extreme at times. So to keep track of the multitude of items I purchased for packages, I bought 4 bins; one each for hygiene items, snacks, clothing (socks, t-shirts, etc.) and misc. items (batteries, nerf balls, zip ties, etc.). This allowed me to see what I had or what I needed to purchase.
My son told us that with all the moving around his unit did his storage space was extremely limited. In fact, during his entire second deployment he pretty much lived out of his vehicle. For that reason I didn’t send anything that had to be heated, i.e. microwave popcorn, coffee, soup, etc. Also, because others were sending packages, I sent no more than one per week. I knew he would share any excess, but I didn’t want him to feel overwhelmed with too much stuff. Each unit is different so be sure to check with your loved one as to the amount of space available and if they will have electricity.
Although it wasn’t the same as fixing home cooked meals, sending packages to my son helped me, as his mom, fulfill that need to take care of him. For that reason, the packages benefitted me as well as him.
Next time I’ll share some specific fun items and theme packaging ideas to send.