Summer Care Packages Have Honorable Heritage

With sleep-away camps in full swing this month, package delivery services are also a little busier than usual as parents send “care packages” filled with favorite foods or small games to their offspring.

While these camp deliveries no doubt bring delight, the original “care packages” began as badly needed hunger relief in the aftermath of war. The first care packages were created in 1946 when 22 American organizations worked together to arrange for packages to be sent to the starving survivors of World War II. The first packages were U.S. Army surplus food parcels that had been created to be air-dropped into war zones, and each of the packages contained enough food to feed ten soldiers. Because the packaging was intended to withstand a drop from an airplane, families who were sent these redirected packages delivered by mail were quite surprised at the wrappings. In a reminiscence posted by Inge E. Stanneck Gross on her website, Memories of WWII, she describes both the excitement of receiving the package and the challenge of opening the outer box bound with metal bands and containing smaller boxes that were heavily waxed and tightly sealed.

Once the CARE program was launched, individuals were permitted to help underwrite the cost of these mailings by ordering and paying for packages to be sent to friends or relatives in Europe. Later Americans took it on as an eleemosynary effort, donating money for packages to be sent to very general specifications such as a “school teacher in Germany.” The acronym, CARE, originally stood for Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe and now stands for Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere.

After the initial army surplus food was depleted, organizations and individuals began working together to create packages. The contents of the packages in the late 1940s were foodstuff that ranged from beef broth and luncheon meat (like Spam) to “luxuries” such as coffee and chocolate. For a complete list see the CARE site.

CARE has grown to become a much broader humanitarian organization; however, Americans continue the tradition of care packages with various groups packing up donated items for the military, mainly around the holiday time. Today’s items range from razors and calling cards to celebrity magazines and DVDs.

When the young campers come home and have caught up on their sleep, parents might tell them the story about how the original “care” packages came to be.

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