October 15, 2011

Soldier Care Packages

When I posted about the frustration of not knowing what to send to soldiers, jennie w. commented that there was a site called Any Soldier, where people could find actual lists from actual soldiers. I clicked over there and I am a little dazzled. For someone who likes to send care packages but gets anxious about overdoing it and/or sending someone a bunch of stuff they don't need/want, this is like some sort of heaven.

I think this ties in beautifully with Doing My Best's Crappy Day Presents idea (see the upper-right of her blog for more about CDPs, with examples), and it's another outlet for those of us who love to do things like that. It is extremely fun for me to buy things for people, especially when I can find those things on clearance (GOOD things, not cheap ugly things---but at 1/4th the price). Looking through the lists of soldier wish lists, my heart was pounding. They need twin-sized sheets, and I OFTEN find twin-sized sheets on 75% off---and in fact, I have several sets still in their packages for when the current sets wear out, and so have had to pass by many a nice clearance. And they want things like snack foods, and I often see those on clearance. And vitamins, and I sometimes see those on clearance. And really, I now see the clearance sections in a WHOLE NEW LIGHT. I'd been thinking, "Oh, that's such a great deal on cute stationery, I wish I didn't already have more than I can ever use," and "Oooo, gum on clearance, but that's not the flavor Paul likes," and "Wow, all those DVDs for only $5 each, but I use Netflix now." BUT I CAN BUY THEM FOR THE SOLDIERS.

And I subscribe to People magazine, and there are GIRL SOLDIERS WHO LIKE PEOPLE MAGAZINE. In fact, you can send a package specifically to "any FEMALE soldier" if it seems more fun to put together a package of nice shampoo and tampons and hair elastics and People magazines and Maeve Binchy paperbacks from the library 25-cent book sale, instead of a box of SpongeBob DVDs and car magazines and Speed Stick.

And I can just buy an item here (box of caffeinated fruit-flavored water enhancer, $2) and an item there (set of twin sheets on 75% off, $6.24), and set them aside until I have enough for a box. I think one of the best parts is knowing that if something in the box is something that's needed by the recipient, they can definitely find someone else who will want it.

It's hard to CHOOSE someone, though. There are SO MANY. SuperJules and I were wishing we had more filter options: you can already sort by service branch, where the unit is from, number of women/men---but we'd like to be able to sort in other ways. I'd like to be able to search for specific items, so that I could find areas that specifically want books, or specifically want People magazines, or whatever. Jules wants to be able to double-filter, so that we can find, for example, a larger team that has received fewer packages. I'd also like to be able to sort by pitifullness, so that I can give priority to the lone female asking for hair elastics and wishing the base store had pads instead of only tampons, and ignore the group looking for a mini-fridge for their PlayStation area. Just clicking through one request link after another is overwhelming, and makes it feel like it's not even worth it to send a single-drop box into the need-ocean.

By the way, the USPS has free flat-rate boxes for this, and I lovvvvvvve flat-rate boxes. I can get a little squirrely about mailing stuff, otherwise. But with a flat-rate box, you just fill it up and you know exactly how much it will cost to mail. And it's pretty amazing to be able to mail a box across the world for $12.95. It's not like $12.95 is pocket change, but I can come up with it now and then---and it's nothing like the cost it would be if it weren't APO/FPO: I once mailed a very small package to Norway and it was so much money I nearly blacked out, something like $30 to mail a baby outfit and a rattle.

I'm a little nervous about the customs forms, though. I don't know how to do those, and new things make me fearful and avoidant. I will hope that the fun of mailing the first box will motivate me to plow through that experience, and after that I will know just what to do and won't have to fret about it anymore.

28 comments:

Corina said...

This is awesome! I'm sure you'll get tons of comments, but don't be afraid of the customs forms. They're really easy to use. And, because saying "don't be nervous" isn't particularly helpful, here's a tip: you can always go to post office and pick up a stack of them and then fill them out at home where you're less likely to be stressed out by feeling time pressure.

Mrs. Irritation said...

Corina beat me to it. Get some custom forms at the post office and take them home so you can do them without feeling PRESSURED by the people eyeballing you in the long post office line. They're easy forms, I promise.

We did Any Soldier for awhile but stopped when we moved. I need to get back on that, thank you for the butt kick to get going.

irene said...

through usps.com you can order flat rate boxes and customs forms, for FREE and the mailman will bring them right to your door! that way you can prepare the package at home :) thanks for what you are doing, Swistle...my husband is in the Army and has been deployed twice. care packages mean so much! and if someone gets something they don't need, they pass it on to someone who does!

Anonymous said...

My SIL is in Baghdad right now, and she says that the army store on base (can't remember what it's called!) has fifty-odd different kinds of tobacco dip and two different kinds of shampoo, which tells you all you need to know about the demographics of the army.

She likes small containers of shampoo and conditioner. Also, pedicure kits and ridiculous toe polish, even though nobody ever sees her feet. And little bags of Orville Redenbacher popcorn, and Cheerios, and books about zombies. Shopping for her is always a hoot.

DomestiKook said...

I hate forms too but customs forms weren't that hard when I sent my box to my soldier.

Michelle said...

Thanks for posting this! I will definitely be making some packages for the holidays. Please post some pics about the boxes you put together!

Jennifer McNeely said...

The forms are not so bad, make sure you get the half page one instead of the 11 pager or whatever it is. I can't remember the rules exactly because I am home from Korea now and haven't had to fill one out for a while, something to do with the weight maybe. But if you confidently present the half page one all filled out, you won't have any trouble. Definitely do pick some up when you get the boxes and do them ahead of time.

And you don't have to be super specific- you can list toiletries (5) and snacks (4) instead of itemizing shampoo, lotion, chips, jerky, gum etc. etc.

Have fun, and I love how generous you are!

Joanne said...

I can't wait to do this, thanks!

Doing My Best said...

That is PERFECT!! Thank you for posting about that site!! Oh, the SHOPPING POTENTIAL!!! SPECIFIC items wanted! My little shopping heart is all aflutter ;-)!

Also, I will mention this site to my husband, in case he hasn't heard about it, so he can pass the information on to those he'll be with in a few weeks.

Superjules said...

I like the idea of going and buying a few things here and there when you see them on clearance. OOOH and the flat rate boxes- YES!

I also wish there was a search option to find the group whose request has been up longest with the fewest requests for their address.

HereWeGoAJen said...

We'll have to definitely do this for one of our Christmas projects.

Bailey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lippy said...

I so want to do this! I am wondering if I can get a group of students who need to do a service project to get more boxes out. Of course if teenager boys read the soldiers need tampons they might never recover. I hadn't thought of the clearance racks that way, good idea.

fairydogmother said...

Man, posts like this make it suck so much that we are so broke right now because I love stuff like this, especially because doing nice things for other people distracts me & helps me feel less crappy about the sucky yet temporary (I hope!) things stressing me out in my own life right now. HOWEVER, I have a "Random Awesomeness" bookmarks file that I an saving this post to right this very now, so I can revisit it when I can afford my life again.

Kate said...

Everyone beat me to it- take a bunch of customs forms to fill out at home, no pressure! Also, you don't have to pay attention to the letter boxes in the declarations part (y'know, the shaded lines that seem to insinuate 1 letter of a word per box)- you can write as small as you want to in order to make everything fit.

Jess said...

I love the idea of slowly collecting things from the clearance shelves for this purpose. And I also think it can apply to other situations. Like you can buy this stuff and give it to a homeless shelter. Or a domestic violence group. Or do something similar with pet clearance stuff for an animal shelter. You wouldn't be able to necessarily get the cool lists of specific requests (though I bet if you called a local shelter they could give you a list of their dire needs) but it still gives a good reason to buy some clearance items that can be put to good use and make you feel good. And it gives you lots of different options for causes to donate to, depending on what happens to stir you most.

Swistle said...

Jess- YES! I once found a huge stack of puppy and kitten food at 75% off at Target, and I gave it to the shelter where we get our cats. It's fun to be able to make a bigger difference than we'd normally be able to make with the same money.

vanessa steck said...

This is such a great idea, and actually, I am going to talk to my Youth Group kids about it!

Heather R said...

I love this idea! I presented it to my mothers group because each month it organizes a community service project....we usually make it into a mother's night out, so it serves two purposes!

twisterfish said...

If you need help with the CP-72 forms email me and I'd be happy to send you a scan of one I did so that you can see where each of the APO address items goes on the form (I was stressed the first time I did it... so afraid I'd put the items in the wrong sections!).
Important: when you ship liquids such as shampoo, make sure you put them in plastic zipper baggies. If they burst or leak you will get a fine from the post office for clean up.

Jenny said...

I just went and looked at that link. They are all asking for snacks! So easy, and actually kind of heartbreakingly simple -- you would think we could provide our soldiers with enough to eat in the first place. This is not my top priority giving opportunity, but I will probably do a couple of these -- they make it so satisfying and easy. Thanks for this.

heather said...

I in no way am trying to take away from you buying for the soldiers because woohooo for good deeds! This post and the comment about seeing stuff on clearance made me think of one of the things I do. My little boy was sick and in a children's hospital for bout 10 of the first 12 months of his life and has had many visits since. One of the cool things there was their child life department. Crafts, toys, movies, books all the stuff kids like. They get that stuff through donation mostly. So now whenever I have a spare $5 I'll pick up a dvd, When school supplies were on sale I picked up $5 worth of crayons. I'll get $1 puzzles or coloring books. When I feel like I have a decent box going I'll take it with me on one of our visits. I alternate between them and the Ronald McDonald house. People don't think of there for stuff like that but there's often siblings of a sick child living there. So just one more place where little donations go a long ways :) The Ronald McDonald house will also take your unopened hotel toiletries.

jennie w. said...

Glad I could help out with the suggestion. I always pick the soldiers who have had the least amount of interest. Or else the people from Texas (because we're Texans).

Sending care packages gets pretty addictive!

Christina said...

Um ok is it just me or is that web site the hardest thing ever to figure out!??? I went and tried to find contacts but I ended up on a huge list of soldiers that had died. So not what I wanted to see (sniffle sniffle). So then after that ordeal I end up on these pages with all kinds of strict directions. DON'T SHIP THIS. DON'T INCLUDE THAT. NO MORE THAN x ADDRESSES A DAY.
I'm just so confused. Maybe I need to look at it in IE not Firefox.. it just seems kind of old and outdated. Lots of clip art. I'm lost.

Swistle said...

Christina- I agree: it's a seriously messy site that is seriously hard to navigate. I hover on "Where To Send" in the top horizontal menu bar, and choose "Any Soldier Addresses" from the resulting 2-item menu. Then I click on people in the lefthand menu bar. (This still shows me the most recent killed soldiers until I've chosen the first contact on the left, so I click fast.)

Mary said...

FWIW, the Any Soldier site does have a search option once you're on the list that will let you do keyword searches for things, although you still have to sort through the results manually and not all of them are relevant.. I'm all kinds of curious, if you don't mind me asking: WHERE do you find sheet sets for 75% off? Thanks muchly. :) (First time commenter, but this struck my interest having used the any soldier site before and also the sheet thing. I found your blog through following TJ on twitter, and of course I've seen you comment on her blog.. I lurk there too)

Swistle said...

Mary- I find them at Target. They clear out a lot of their stuff each season. I don't find heaps every season, but by persistently checking, I gradually find a set here and a set there, and they add up over the years. And occasionally I find a huge supply of them all at once and have to keep myself from buying way more than we could ever use.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post and for supporting our soldiers in harm's way. My cousin recently returned from Iraq. She said AnySoldier was one of the best support organizations out there because those serving can send thank yous and pics to the real people who help during their deployments, as opposed the larger more impersonal aid organizations with anonymous donors. She also said it meant a lot just to get letters and old magazines or newspapers or stuff you can't use but can pass along to another soldier who can. When you have so little it's great to have something to share. It is a huge boon to morale just to see a package at mail call. Any tangible proof they aren't forgotten back home is like gold in their hands. My cousin had excellent family and friend support while deployed but unfortunately the vast majority do not. Some would never see a piece of mail if it weren't for the kindness of people like you. However any of us may feel about this war or that war, it's important to remember the troops, many just teens and twenty somethings, who do the hard work and make the sacrifices. May your personal life be blessed when you need it most for your big heart and generous spirit.