|Frugal Café Site Search:|
Send It Secured: How to Properly Pack Your Morale Box for TroopsBy Vicki McClure Davidson
Sending hygiene and comfort items to our deployed troops is one of the greatest gifts you can give to a soldier or Marine who is far from home, giving selfless service to our country. A care package says "we care, we're proud of you, and you're not forgotten." The morale boost a small box of everyday, inexpensive items provides is immeasurable. For too many, this "slice of home" may be the only package they ever receive while in the war zone theater.
Packing the morale box properly so that the contents aren't ruined is easy and affordable. Common sense is key. Here are some valuable suggestions:
- A variety of USPS Priority Mail Flat-Rate boxes | Photo credit: United States Postal Services
Regular domestic prices apply when using a box other than the Post Office's special flat-rate boxes. Only items weighing up to 70 pounds and the box measuring no more than 108 inches in combined length and girth are permitted. The dimensions of the flat-rate boxes are rather small (the smallest box offered currently measures 8-5/8" x 5-3/8" x 1-5/8" and the largest is 12-1/4" x 12-1/4" x 6"). Therefore, they may not suit all your mailing needs if you're sending something large. But overall, they're terrific and offer a great cost savings.
Once, I sent a flat-rate box to a troop stationed in Afghanistan, filled with heavy cans of Campbell's Chunky Soup. I paid the flat rate of around nine dollars; the regular postage cost, had I used a non-flat-rate box, would have been nearly 30 dollars. You get tremendous value for your buck with flat-rate shipping when sending heavy, smaller items.
Sometimes getting to the US Post Office to pick-up flat-rate boxes is impossible for busy folks or for those living in rural areas. Post Office outposts don't always stock them. The US Post Office offers free shipping supplies, sent to your home free of charge. Call 1-800-610-8734 (select Option 1 when requested by the recording) to request a "military kit." Not only is an assortment of Priority Mail flat-rate and regular-rate boxes included in the military kit (collapsed, of course), but necessary shipping declaration forms, adhesive form sleeves, Priority-Mail-insignia rolls of tape, and mailing labels are also included. If you wish, you can set up a free personal account so should you need military kits in the future, filling your order will go much faster. Shipping supplies can also be ordered online on the USPS website. You can also order online, free of charge, just sets of flat-rate or regular-rate Priority Mail boxes.
Packing peanuts, rumpled newspaper, and bubble wrap are good to use to cushion a package's contents, but they can take up valuable space in the US Postal flat-rate boxes. If possible, consider saving that space and instead, use packages of sunflower seeds or dried fruit, sugar or sweetener packets, Kool-Aid packets, small travel pillows, socks, magazines, lip balm tubes, neck-cooler kerchiefs, washcloths, folded comic sections of the Sunday newspaper, blank greeting cards or stationery, facial tissue travel packets, neutral-colored hair scrunchies for women, or other flexible, soft items to cushion and secure items in the box. I've used deflated "whoopie cushions" often. These are great to squeeze between other items and are usually the most popular item in the care package (Wal-Mart and the dollar stores often sell the gag-gift novelty whoopee cushions for less than a buck). If you're sending more sturdy items like canned goods, tools, or books, cushioning isn't necessary.
As popular as store-bought snacks like Twinkies or Hostess Cupcakes are with our troops, don't send anything that can be squished and ruined in transit (potato chips and hard cookies will often arrive pulverized to dust). Likewise, sending items that can melt in the heat, like chocolate or gummie worms, should only be sent in the winter. The cargo areas of planes are not air-conditioned or pressurized, and many thoughtful snacks have been rendered disgustingly inedible once they finally arrive in the war zone. Never send homemade baked goods, unless they're to a relative or friend. Because of security reasons, most troops aren't allowed to accept them from strangers. They can also spoil in transit because of the heat and their lack of preservatives.
Weight is not an issue with US Priority Mail flat-rate boxes, so utilize all available space in the box. Toss in or wedge small, wrapped hard candies, batteries, gum, shoelaces, socks, hand towels and washcloths, pens and pencils, notepads, small toys (like Beanie Babies, small rubber balls, or hacky sacks), and postcards to keep the contents from shifting around and to fill all the small nooks and crannies. If necessary, keep rearranging the box's contents so that all space is used and fragile items are properly cushioned. It won't cost you more and will maximize the number of items packed in the box.
During your efforts to totally fill the box, be careful to not OVERFILL the box. The closed flaps or sides of the box should never bulge. The contents of the box will shift during transit and an overfilled box may strain and pop open, even with ample tape securing it. The Post Office may reject sending a bulging box.
If you're sending small plastic vials of shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, anti-bacterial hand wash, or sunblock, be aware that pressure changes in the cargo hold of military planes can cause the bottle's contents to expand and seep out of the bottle, or loosen the bottle's lid. ALWAYS, ALWAYS put items like this in a durable ziplock bag (double bagging is even better). Tighten all lids.
Don't mix hygiene items with food items. The fumes and fragrances in soaps, lotions, deodorants, shaving gel (never send aerosol cans, because they can explode in the cargo plane; military cargo areas are not usually pressurized) and other hygiene items (also candles and solid room fresheners) will often be absorbed by the food items (shipping takes at least a week, so the box's contents are together in a confined space for a long time), making them taste horrible and ruining them. Keep them separate: send either a hygiene box or a food box (books, magazines, CDs, batteries, calendars, jigsaw puzzles, and other non-scented items can be included in food/snack boxes). Even if a cake of soap states it's non-scented, the chemicals in the soap will exude fumes that will permeate and ruin most food items.
Never send items in glass bottles. These can break and the contents will not only ruin the box's contents, but liquids can ruin Post Office equipment. Small glass bottles of hot sauce or Tabasco sauce, though, are usually really thick and don't break as easily as other thinner-glass bottles. So, as described above, you can put the bottle into a durable ziplock bag and cushion it well with bubble wrap or packing peanuts. Because they are vacuum-sealed and have a protective wrapper around the lid, they are not as likely to seep out sauce or unscrew themselves. Hot sauce is a big-time favorite treat for many troops, and many long for it.
Never, ever send aerosal cans or carbonated beverages. These can explode in transit because of the cargo pressure situation. Yes, I know that soda is often sent to troops by the military. Precautions are taken that these are contained on the plane in pressurized areas, which is not where your package will end up. So, don't try to sneak one in the box.
Nothing hazardous should ever be included in the box.
Before they reach their destination, care packages are handled and thrown about by many people and machines, and often roughly. Be sure that the box you use is securely closed within an inch of its life with durable packing tape. Regular tape, like that used for wrapping gifts, is not strong enough or water-resistant enough to reliably keep the box closed. Too much tape is never a problem; too little can be.
If you're using a cardboard box other than a USPS flat-rate box, be sure that it is extra sturdy (I don't recommend using packing boxes from electronics, since most of these are made of fairly flimsy cardboard) and securely taped shut. Small rips or jagged irregularities must be taped down. If you suspect that the corners of the box are weak, add packing tape to them to reinforce them. Boxes that were used for shipping food goods or reams of photocopy paper are satisfactory choices. If any logos or lettering on the box could complicate its delivery, use a Sharpie pen to block them out.
Before you seal the box, be sure to include a brief note, postcard, or uplifting letter with a short message of support. Include your name, email address, and home address somewhere in the correspondence. Often, a care package is received with such joy that when it is ripped open by our excited deployed heroes, the shipping box may be misplaced or discarded before the address on the mailing label is noted. Never expect a response from the recipients of a morale box; they are kept too busy and have a lot on their minds, like fighting the enemy and staying alive. However, some do want to be able to contact the sender to thank him or her, and a letter or postcard in the box with your contact information will be greatly appreciated. Including a few family photographs, noting on the back who is who and from what US state, is also appreciated. Drawings or letters written by children are greatly enjoyed.
Additionally, many military bases in deployed areas have some kind of morale-building bulletin board in a common area where support letters and post cards are posted so that the troops can read them when they have spare time. Some are divided into sections by state, giving even more morale boosting to soldiers who hail from those areas.
Last year, I received a letter from a commanding officer stationed in Iraq who said he liked to read support letters aloud to his troops when they were gathered in the mess hall eating breakfast. He said it always filled them with pride and energy and started the day off on a positive note. Some even shed a few tears of emotion during the readings.
You never know how many of our enlisted people will be deeply touched and motivated by a letter or brief note of support, sometimes even more than from the goodies you sent.
Toby Keith: Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)
No Pork in Iraq: What You Can Send in Care Packages to Troops
Taking the Stress Out of Sending Packages to Troops: How to Properly Mail to the War Zone
Let's Say Thanks Program – Free Cards for Our Troops
Frugal Café Blog Zone: Awesome — Dunkin’ Donuts Supports Our Deployed Troops with Free Coffee Lottery
Cakes Ready-to-Eat for Our Troops
Troop Support Opportunity for Children in War Zones: Beanies for Baghdad
Yuletide Reminder: Cards and Letters Mean Everything – 'Tis the Season for Writing to Our Troops