Care Packages and Correspondence Research: History and Tips

Care Packages and Correspondence Badge, Step 1

Do you know anyone who could use a care package to brighten their day?  Join us as we dive into the interesting history of CARE packages, research what makes a good care package, gather ideas for putting them together, and look into the science of correspondence and maintaining relationships.

Care Packages and the art of sending them entered my life last summer as I was preparing myself to send my oldest daughter away to college.  Yes, she was only going to a school that was 100 miles away… but Care Packages from home were a must do for any great parent, right?  

This thought was reinforced by a packet I received from my daughter’s university’s Residential Housing Association.  It was an order sheet for ready made care packages that would be distributed throughout the year to all freshmen…for a not so small fee.  Around that same time I listened to a series of Happier podcasts from Gretchen Rubin about tips she followed when her daughter went away to college. Inspired by these two thoughts, I knew I would soon be researching, shopping, creating, and sending some care packages.  

You can see the Care Packages and Correspondence Badge Guide, or “recipe” for the badge here.  Each Badge Guide contains three steps to be completed in order to earn the badge. These steps can be done on your own, but we encourage you to grab a few friends and learn together! 

Step 1 is always focused on research. Look up the topic online, watch videos to learn a skill, or visit your local library.  You can read about the resources and fun facts we found below. 

When I began this research I wasn’t sure I would find much on the history of care packages.  I was pleasantly surprised!  

A care package is: a package of useful or pleasurable items that is sent or given as a gift to another who is away from home (such as a college student).

History.com documents the fascinating origin of the term care package.  In 1946, one year after the end of World War II, many small towns in France and Germany continued to struggle to survive.  The Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe (CARE) came to their aid by shipping 15,000 brown cardboard boxes full of food, soap, diapers, medicine and more.  These first care packages were created to bring humanitarian aid to millions of people starving in Europe! This aid continued for many years after the war.  

Credit: CARE

In the 1950’s Truman urged Americans to donate food, clothing and blankets that would be made into care packages following the Korean War.  He declared that “Every CARE Package delivered to a family in Korea, in the name of American donors, is proof of democracy in action to help its fellow man”.

The CARE program still exists today.  They have sent 100 million CARE packages to people in need all around the world.  They have shifted their efforts toward more long-term programs. Read all about how you can help here.  

I also found the story of the CARE program discussed on A Way With Words podcast.  

I love the story of the earliest CARE packages.  No doubt people have been sending gifts to loved ones far away for 100’s of years.  It is fun to think about what these early care packages contained. A momento from home, sweets, clothing?  That brings me to think about why we send care packages. They certainly make the giver feel good. But more than that it also helps to lessen the sadness of missing someone who is far away.  It allows the giver to actively participate in an activity that they hope will bring happiness to their loved one. As you will soon read it also can be a creative outlet for the giver.  

The Science of Care Packages

Care Packages and correspondence in general can help spread love, kindness and help maintain relationships.  The receiver of the care package often feels surprise at receiving the package. Surprise for many is a key component of joy. They know that someone who cares for them took the time to pull together a few momentos and send them their way. What better way to let someone know you are thinking of them?  Additionally care packages and correspondence of any kind can help maintain a relationship over far distances.  

Research has shown the importance of maintaining relationships for health and happiness. Relationships that are well maintained are more satisfying. The people in them report higher commitment and like each other more. Relationship maintenance takes many forms including open communication and “assurances,” or telling a loved one that you care about them. Showing support through sending a care package that includes things people want and need can be seen as a form of affection. The exchange of affection can help ward off loneliness. Sending letters containing words of encouragement or simply sharing about your day or week can help you feel closer to those who are far away. You can read more about how care packages contribute to maintaining relationships here.

Correspondence Tips

Receiving mail, or even a text from a friend can be special. We love the idea of sending care packages, but they are not practical to send to everyone in your life, and can’t be sent as often as a regular card or letter. We were interested in tips and tricks for getting into the habit of sending more correspondence in general. We’ve compiled some tips below:

  • Consider sending a “family email” to adult siblings and parents. Our family had a several year streak of sending daily emails containing old pictures. Our dad would scan a bunch of pictures and send one out each day. We would then email banter back and forth teasing each other about what we were wearing or asking questions about relatives we did not recognize. It was a great way to learn about the history of our family and be reminded of some of our favorite memories.
  • Send something small, that will fit in an envelope. When I lived away from home my sister sent me small holiday decorations that would fit inside a regular envelope. For example, a 4×3 inch red glittery “Ho Ho Ho” sign around Christmastime. 
  • Put important dates on your google/work calendar along with reminders to send a card a few days before the date. For my nephews, I have an alert for their birthday, and an alert for about 4 days ahead of time to remind me to send a card. 
  • Keep an eye out for little trinkets that remind you of your loved one. Chances are the trinket is something they would appreciate receiving in the mail. If it is something large or expensive snap a picture and send it in a text. After all, it’s really the thought that counts!
  • Sign up for the Timehop App. This app collects all of your electronic photos and gives you a daily dose of that day in the past. Who were you with four year ago? What were you celebrating 18 years ago? I will often share these photos by text with loved ones. The photos bring up a fond memory and give us both something to smile about.

Care Package Ideas

Real Simple says that a great care package strikes a balance between reminding the recipient of home and offering items that will make them happy where they currently are.  This is a good reminder when sending to someone who may be homesick. Strike a balance so they do not just feel more homesick after opening the package.  

Here are 7 great care package ideas Real Simple came up with that can work for nearly anyone.

Care Package Idea #1: A Candle

We can never have enough candles, right? The right candle can both remind someone of home and improve the aroma of his or her current living space. For college students, flameless scents may be a better pick; consider a travel-sized essential oil diffuser instead. Last year I sent my daughter different meltable wax fragrances for each season. 

Care Package Idea #2: A Home-Grown Snack

People can buy potato chips or chocolates anywhere. Make your care package special with a treat from your loved one’s hometown, or from your own kitchen!

Care Package Idea #3: Photo Prints

This care package idea is perfect for members of the military, or for those with pint-sized living spaces. Printing a few photos, whether they’re old photos of the two of you or new ones of home, pets, or family members, is affordable and compact—great if you’re shipping a care package overseas. For bonus points, include a small way for them to display the photos front and center, like a frame or stand.

Care Package Idea #4: Gift Cards

Gift cards may be the blandest of gifts, but that doesn’t make them any less functional—especially for sick friends or family members or those with limited mobility. (Even college students can use these—the right gift card may be the difference between another microwave meal or a more nutritionally sound option.) Consider including gift cards to services such as Uber or Lyft, food delivery companies, cleaning services, and the like. 

Care Package Idea #5: Self-Care Items

Send comforting items such as warm socks, a cozy robe, a soft throw blanket, and face masks to remind your loved one to do a little pampering.

Care Package Idea #6: Phone Accessories

Phones are in near-constant use—and their pesky accessories (think chargers, headphones, adapters, cases, etc.) always seem to be breaking or disappearing, even if they are dorm room essentials. Replenish your loved one’s supply, and he or she may end up giving you a few extra calls each month. 

Care Package Idea #7: A Green Gift

A little bit of greenery can perk up anyone’s living space—and plenty of services ship living potted plants straight to locations around the country. Pick a plant that will suit your loved one’s situation: College students or someone struggling with illness will appreciate something that doesn’t need a ton of TLC (but still brightens up the room), while distant friends might like something that flowers.

College Care Packages:  

I found lots of great advice from Gretchen Rubin on her Happier Podcast.  I really appreciated her thoughtful ideas about how to include her younger daughter in the creation of the care packages for her sister.  Another favorite suggestion was sending a Homesick box full of little gifts for your college freshmen to open throughout the year when she was feeling blue.

Sign up Genius also had some great tips for college care packages!  The following excerpt comes from their site: 

Packing Tips

  • Stockpile boxes to reuse (shoeboxes, online retail boxes).
  • Securely tape a piece of paper on top of the old address if you’re re-using a box, and write the new address on the paper.
  • Crumple up paper or junk mail to use as stuffing in the box.
  • Keep padded envelopes on hand for small packages.
  • Hate standing in post office lines? In most regions you can ship boxes under a certain weight right from your home. Go online to the USPS website to verify that you can schedule a package pickup. For this, you will also need a small digital postal scale.
  • Cover the box in wrapping paper during a birthday month.
  • Consider an express shipping method if you’re shipping homemade treats.
  • No time? Research online websites and have someone else do it for you.
  • Ask a grandparent or a special aunt, uncle or godparent to send a care package. Genius!

Check out Sign Up Genius’s extensive list of suggestions and ideas here.  I love that they give you plenty of options for each month of the school year!

Summer Camp Care Packages:

How Life Unfolds had some great suggestions for summer camp care packages.

  • Reading materials: magazines, books and comics
  • Games and goodies for the group: items your kids and their cabin mates can enjoy together, such as playing cards.
  • Pictures: photos of the family and pets. 
  • Activities for downtime: puzzles, coloring books and mind games
  • Help Them Write Home with Paper: Before sealing the box, toss in a set of pre-addressed stationery or postcards that your campers can use not only to thank you for sending cool care packages, but also to write to family and friends about their summer camp adventures.

Hospital/Illness Care Packages:

Lotsa Helping Hands discusses 9 care packages ideas that can be used to give anyone a lift.  

Military Care Packages:

We found an amazing blog about care packages focusing on military but good tips for all: Countdowns and Cupcakes. There are a ton of creative decorating ideas on this site as well.  Be sure to sign up for her 165 Free Care Packages Ideas!

I wholeheartedly believe in the positive power of care packages.  I believe that sending correspondence of any sort to a loved one near or far can lift both your spirits and theirs but then I began to wonder…..Has Care Package Giving gone too far?  In a world of sugary junk food, mindless shopping, wastefulness and consumerism at every turn I can see how this could be the case. I found this hilarious article titled The Care Package Wars from the New York Times about parents who go above and beyond to send their kids care packages at camp.

I also felt torn about the blatant guilt tactics used by my daughter’s college to get parents to order pre-made care packages for their children.  The flyer stated that kids who did not receive care packages would feel left out and possibly experience more homesickness.  I also considered the content of these care packages that were mostly junk food and non vegan items that my daughter would not eat.  

Coming up next… for step 2 of the badge, we interview an expert on care packages and a friend who is known for sending great ones. And join us for step 3 of the Care Packages and Correspondence Badge to find out if I gave into guilt and ordered the premade care packages for my daughter or found another path! Come along as we contemplate care packages and correspondence further, shop for specific care package items for different people in our lives, get our creative juices flowing and finally put together and create some boxes of love.  

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