How to avoid sending the tuna sandwich of deployment care packages
Does anyone else look at deployment box ideas online and instantly run to the nearest bottle of wine for courage? Why bother when there's likely a subscription box for that? How does one avoid the 'tuna sandwich' of care packages, and pridefully send items they really care about? What if I have zero creative skills but want to wow my service member?
We chatted with Rachel McQuiston, Navy spouse and self-proclaimed care package enthusiast for her expert advice on nailing deployment packages like the pros with minimal stress.
"You can overwhelm yourself with the theme and miss out of the whole part of what makes a great care package- intentionality," says McQuiston, who became deeply attached to this tradition when her husband deployed four times in the first four years of their marriage.
"This is how we keep him in our daily lives, by adding an item to my shopping list, by looking for a good deal, it feels like we're connected."
Budgets present a significant barrier for some spouses, and can lead to insecurities, the last feeling any spouse should have while they are enduring a deployment. McQuiston encourages others to make this (the packages) that thing you take your family and friends up on the offer when they ask how they can help during deployment.
Tips like buying in bulk and spreading certain items over multiple packages or adding a few items to a weekly shopping list are other great suggestions on keeping costs in check.
For those fortunate enough not to be financially burdened, taking on the needs of other service members within your significant other's location is the way to keep everyone strong. "I'll often send my husband extras of one item in his packages, and around the holidays I've even sent an entire box labeled 'to share' instead of his individual package," says McQuiston, who realized that not everyone gets mail early on.
One misconception driving stress surrounding these packages is the thought that theme or even the contents are what makes a box exceptional.
"My husband tells me his favorite part of the boxes is always opening it up, because he can smell my perfume, a little reminder of home."
Personal touches, like the service member's own brand of toothpaste or the spritz of your perfume which creates an instantaneous connection to home from thousands of miles away. "You can send the sleekest or coolest looking box, but if it's not what they want or what they actually need, it's off the mark," says McQuiston on why sending care packages is and will always be her first choice.
What are the top things a care package expert recommends? Her tested list is less glamourous and less themed than you might think.
- Service member-specific toiletries or brands
- Products with a high shelf life (granola bars or powdered drink mixes)
What service members can actually use on deployment may vary depending on their assignments. Command outposts and Forward Operating Bases are two completely different environments. Wool socks aren't sexy, but they are warm. Beef jerky (again) may seem lame but is a highly coveted item where MRE's are what's for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
What's on her list of least recommended items? Things like chocolate, or any homemade food due to a high risk of spoiling in unpredictable climates or longer than anticipated shipping times. We can all rest easy not having to master the art of cupcakes in a jar.
Still feeling unsure or incapable? One piece of advice McQuiston feels vital to the overall experience is involving others in the process. "Throw a care package party where everyone pitches in on supplies, decorating, and feels comradery around what they're doing," she adds that beverages always make the party better.
McQuiston carries a foolproof guide to care packages on her website, Countdowns and Cupcakes, as well as inspirational pictures and ideas to help you feel confident.