My partner-in-crime, Becky from Brave Crate, and I wrapped up PILLAR: The Digital Retreat for Deployment Countdowns. It was three jam-packed days of fabulous presentations from experts who have lived military life, giveaways, great content, and community.
Now that it’s over, I’m processing everything that I learned at PILLAR. Very quickly, I realized that I wanted to share everything with the Jo, My Gosh! community… especially when it comes to all of the wonderful thoughts, tricks, and tips that folks had about care packages.
At PILLAR, we asked attendees what their very favorite gift to send in a care package is. The responses just made me smile. I hope that you find inspiration from them all!
Art from kids
Sending artwork from children is a universal favorite. It keeps kids engaged with their deployed parent, helps keep the refrigerator a bit more tidy, and offers a creative outlet. And art from kids can look like a lot of different things– it all depends on your child and your bandwidth to facilitate arts and crafts at home. PILLAR attendee Heather N. noted that she loves sending coloring pages from her daughter to decorate her loved one’s wall.
A few ideas:
- Repurpose art that your child has already created at home or at school and send it along
- And while we’re at it, it’s not art, but you can send a few examples of your kiddo’s school work (like a great report the wrote or a test or worksheet they’re proud of) to keep your spouse feeling in the loop
- Have a care package crafting night with the kids (try these easy-to-make deployment crafts)
- Take a few completed pages from a coloring book.
For many military members, deployment is a health reset. Far away from home and delicious home-cooked meals, it can be easy to be more disciplined about nutrition and exercise. Nomi Y. enjoys sending “trail mix, dried fruit… stuff like that.”
A few ideas:
- Try your hand at making these homemade granola bars. (John loved them, and I can personally attest that they ship very well.)
- If your loved one’s APO/FPO is available for shipping through Amazon, send favorites in bulk through Amazon’s grocery section and save on shipping costs.
- If you’re sending home-dried fruits and veggies or homemade healthy treats, check out these tips on how to safely and securely send food in care packages.
- And if you need some ideas for specific brands, try these 72 options for healthy, mailable foods for care packages.
You all know that I am a big proponent of writing letters during deployment. One of my disciplines during John’s year-long deployment was to write one letter a day, every day. I was shocked when John brought home every single letter, carefully ordered in a shoe box. But I’m not alone. Other spouses noted writing letters, postcards, and notes as their favorite gift for care packages, including Katya Q. who mentioned that her husband “keeps them [her handwritten letters] all, some we’ve had for 11 years now.”
Even in a day of modern technology and instant communication, there is something not only romantic but deeply touching about writing and receiving handwritten correspondence.
A few ideas:
- “When I travel… I get a puzzle of the area and write a letter on the back and then take apart the puzzle so he has to put it together to figure out what the letter says. He loves it.” -Kiley R.
- “Open when letters are one of the things he loves.” – Karidad R. (You can download 102 Open When Letter topics here.)
- “When we were still just friends I traveled the country during the time he was deployed and sent him postcards from everywhere I went! He kept them all. When he returned home we started dating. At our engagement photo session we brought them along and got a really neat photo with them!” -Emily J.
- If you’re not up for writing long letters, try shorter love notes, like Rachel J.
- Like Elba O., you can invite your kids to create postcards for their deployed parent, too. Read more about the practice of sending postcards.
- “[I’ve sent a] package of 10 birthday cards, all from me, each with a different note.” – Amanda K.
I’ll be honest– I never thought of sending a blanket… but I absolutely am on board now! What a beautiful way to send physical comfort to someone!
A few ideas:
- It’s all about the comfiness, according to Lacey B. who has sent “a super comfy blanket for his bunk.”
- Weighted blankets are all the rage right now, and Toni L. swears by them, too. (Note: this might be a great item to ship direct so you’re not paying for shipping twice. Just make sure that you purchase from a company that sends to APO/FPOs.)
- “I just shipped out a photo blanket to my husband today! It has photos of our daughter and our fur babies!” -Melissa F.
Photos and photo gifts
Of course, photos are something that never go out of style when it comes to deployment. And surprisingly–or maybe not-so-surprisingly, military spouses swear by physical photos, not digital ones.
- “I sent a ‘picture book’ featuring our dogs and he loved it.” -Rachel M.
- Nicole O. swears by “pictures or a picture calendar” for her deployed loved one.
- “Pictures, my husband absolutely loves the physical pictures of us and our dog” -Jessica M.
- “Pictures! He said he loves to see everything that’s going on back home.” -Beth P.
Clothing with a special touch
Sending clothing is something I completely forgot that we did during John’s deployment. But once Amanda shared that she sent a “shirt sprayed with perfume and vacuum sealed to stay fresh,” I was flooded with memories.
Not everything in a care package needs to be necessary or sentimental. Sometimes, gifts can just be entertaining. Or … well, I’m not even sure. And neither was Sarah P. when her husband requested a lava lamp while deployed to a combat zone. “I have no idea why he wanted one, but it went to Afghanistan and back!” she said. It’s such an important point to make though: sometimes a care package item just needs to be that weird thing they request. Just ’cause.
Very particular snacks
You know his or her favorites. The tasty things they love. The healthy foods they might not be asking for, but you know they need. And then there are the very, very particular snacks that might only be what they want during deployment like…
- “Baconator Pringles” -Brittany A.
- “Cafe Bustelo instant coffee sticks. He loves them and can’t get them.” – Danielle P.
- “I like to find unique stuff at World Market for him to try.” -Katelyn T.
- “My homemade cookies.” -Savannah J.
While I’ve never sent a pillow during deployment, I have sent pillowcases. In fact, John and I took fabric markers and wrote messages on each other’s before he deployed. It was so nice having a little “I love you” message right next to my head when he was gone. But pillows? That’s a whole ‘nother game. I just love this idea. And it makes sense– pillows are all about comfort and they’re a staple. Karen C. sent a travel pillow to her husband, complete with a misting of her perfume. How sweet!
Looking For More Care Package Ideas? Try These:
- 40 Ways to Save Money on Care Packages
- The Gigantic List of Free Care Packages for Deployed Service Members
- Here’s What Troops Really Want in a Care Package