Sending a care package to a military member is a great way to show your appreciation.

Whether you’re reaching out to someone who’s a member of your family or you just want to send a few much-needed items to a few troops, there are plenty of ways you can assemble a care package without spending a lot of money. It’s even possible to send a care package for free or close to free.

What are a few important things to know before you put together a military care package?

While it’s not possible to ship a care package to a military member for free, the United States Postal Service does provide shipping supplies free of charge through operation care package. They even offer a free Military Care Kit that contains two large and two medium priority flat rate boxes, two medium priority flat rate boxes, tape, address labels, and custom forms and envelopes needed to mail the package.

You can get your free supplies by calling the Package Supply Center at 1-800-610-8734, by visiting the USPS website, or by visiting your local USPS branch.

Keep in mind domestic shipping rates apply, even if you are sending your care package to armed forces in another country when you send the package to an APO/FPO/DPO address.

Another thing to remember if shipping your care package overseas is that there might be shipping restrictions that vary by country. The local USPS can give you directions on how to assemble a care package that’s appropriate for a given service member’s location. In general, you’ll want to avoid shipping:

  • Aerosols
  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Firearms or ammunition
  • Anything flammable
  • Produce
  • Obscene or offensive material, or pornography
  • Pork products
  • Tobacco

You can request your military care package supplies from the USPS here.

Tips for Preparing Your Care Package

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In addition to getting your free shipping supplies for sending your military care package, it’s important to be sure you assemble the package so it’s handled properly. For instance, seal all of the items in plastic baggies to ensure anything that leaks doesn’t damage other items, and that rain or sand does not get into the items. These plastic baggies can then be used by the package recipient to protect their valuables from rain and other elements. Separating items in plastic bags is a great way to protect things that are mixed up. For instance, food won’t have a soapy taste or smell if you combine snacks and shower items in the same box.

Boxes can be packed tight with lots of items, but be sure not to overstuff a box. It puts the contents at risk because the box might open during shipping. Also make sure you tape the box up, especially if you include anything of value. There’s no such thing as “too much tape”!

taping box image

It’s also a good idea to include an item manifest so the recipient knows what is supposed to be in the box. If you’re sending the package to someone you know personally, they can let you know if anything was lost in transit.

Finally, make sure the shipping information is accurate. USPS used to deliver packages addressed to “any service member,” so packages could be randomly shipped, but now you need the name of a specific person, as well as their title, DPO/FPO/APO, and full zip. It’s also a good idea to include a second internal shipping label that matches the external one, just in case there’s damage and the external label become unreadable.

What Do Service Members Want in their Care Packages?

The contents of a care package will vary based on who the recipient is but, in general, service members have reported wanting or needing the following items:

  • Batteries
  • OTC pain medication
  • Baby wipes
  • Snack foods
  • Breath mints
  • Toiletries
  • Energy/protein drink mixes
  • International phone cards
  • Laundry detergent
  • Personal care items
  • Magazines
  • Stationary
  • Games and playing cards
  • Socks
  • Toilet paper
  • Sun protection and glasses
  • T-shirts

How to Get Items to Include in Care Packages

Though it’s perfectly acceptable to purchase items with your own money for military care packages, there are several companies that offer free items for military members. It doesn’t hurt to ask around at local businesses to see if there is anything available or if the business would like to partner with you to include items. Many businesses want to help out and thank military members for their service and they know it’s a great way to spread goodwill about their brand.

Some of the companies that have donated items for military care packages in the past include:

  • Chick-Fil-A
  • Dollar Shave Club
  • Bose
  • Cards Against Humanity
  • Dunkin Donuts
  • Frito Lay
  • Jack Links and Oberto
  • Kellogs
  • Lysol
  • Paul Mitchell
  • Snyders
  • Starkist
  • Swiffer
  • Whataburger

Many of these businesses are food-related, which means a military member can enjoy the “taste of home” while deployed.

In some cases, such as with Chick-Fil-A, the company offers free sauce packets. Chick-Fil-A has even been known to end large care packages directly to soldiers, which was the case in this story.

Obviously, you can’t send a chicken sandwich overseas, but you can send a hefty supply of sauces from the fast food restaurant that allows your favorite military member to get a taste of the flavor they’ve missed while deployed. In most cases, Chick-Fil-A will provide enough packets that the care package recipient will be able to share with fellow service members.

If you’d like to reach out to a particular company, try visiting their website and clicking on their contact link. Some companies even offer a donation link to make it easy to request items. You’ll probably want to give your address instead of giving the specific location of your military care package recipient to the company. This is usually the preferred method anyway if you’re assembling a care package because you’ll want to include a variety of items.

If you’d like to include items that are not free but aren’t that expensive, considering visiting an area dollar store. There are many items available at these stores, often from popular companies offering brand name merchandise that would be great in a care package. For instance, most dollar stores carry dental and personal hygiene products, stationery, storage items, holiday items, greeting cards, and a variety of other things that might be useful to military members.