What Goes into an Operation Gratitude Care Package?

As the mother of a U.S. Marine, I have a lot of experience sending care packages. Over the years I’ve gathered valuable feedback from my son and from the dozens and dozens of Battle Buddies he has brought home, on what items are most useful and appreciated. That’s one of the reasons I was drawn to volunteer at Operation Gratitude many years ago, and why I am so proud to help ensure that every care package is assembled with the love and care that our Heroes deserve.

One question I get asked over and over by people visiting or volunteering at Operation Gratitude’s warehouse, which we call the FOB (Forward Operating Base) is, “Where does all of this stuff come from?!”

A lot of thought, care, and love goes into every care package we send, and that starts with our volunteers, who donate hundreds of thousands of Wish Listitems each year. The items come from tens of thousands of caring Americans across the country who want to express their gratitude to those who serve, and it is their support that helps fill the more than 300,000 care packages we will send this year.

One of our care package recipients said it best when he wrote:

Thank you very much for the great care package that your organization sent.  I was very surprised and pleased that there was a package for me (I don’t get much mail) and that there were those of you out there grateful for our service…. Please know that my fellow Marines and I are unmeasurably thankful for your care packages and the thoughtfulness that goes into them.   Know that the little reminders of home you furnish us with make these days a lot more bearable. They also serve as a reminder of what we’re fighting to protect.”

That’s exactly what we’re hoping to do with each individual care package we send to deployed Troops serving far away – provide a reminder of home and let them know that we’re thinking of them and that we understand and appreciate their service and sacrifice. We take great pride in ensuring the items are not only the highest quality but useful as well, and we have customized our care packages to meet the evolving needs of the Military, Veteran, and First Responder communities that we serve.

For Recruit Graduates, our specially designed and portable ‘care pouches’ are filled with items that will make the trip for our nation’s newest service members to their first duty station a little more comfortable. And for First Responders these same smaller, bright red pouches are the perfect size to fit in a squad car or locker, and they are packed with useful travel-sized items for these local Heroes on the go!

In addition to the millions of items we receive from individual supporters, many of the high-quality products we include are donated in bulk by dozens of military-friendly companies across the country. One of Operation Gratitude’s largest and longest-running corporate partners is MarsWrigley Confectionery, whose history of supporting the U.S. military is well known. We include a Mars treat in every care package that we send, yum!

“It’s a privilege to partner with Operation Gratitude and support our U.S. Service Members and First Responders, along with the communities who care for them. Mars has deep roots with the armed forces — the first-ever M&M’S® chocolate candies were produced 1941 in Newark, New Jersey, as a military ration during World War II. Mars is proud to support the men and women of the U.S. military and Operation Gratitude”

Anthony Guerrieri, Regional Director, Corporate Affairs, U.S. & Latin America, Mars Wrigley Confectionery

There are a few staples that go into each of our care packages:

  • Handmade-With-Love items: Paracord Survival bracelets, knit items, cool ties, letters from home – each with a personal touch of appreciation and support from a grateful American. Many of our knitters include small thank you notes knit right in! We hear time and again from recipients that these are the most cherished items in our care packages.
  • Letter writing kits:  Stationery, blank cards, pens and mechanical pencils that deployed Troops can use to write to loved ones and friends  they are missing most.
  • Items that are not easily accessible and highly requested: 5-Hour ENERGY, coffee and Emergen-C are at the top of this list. Our deployed Troops and First Responders are working long hours in harsh environments, and we consistently receive thanks for these items!
  • Special treats and reminders of home: Girl Scout cookies are a much-loved item, as are other snacks that we take for granted here at home like Power Crunch protein bars, M&Ms and Combos snack foods.  
  • Entertainment: Comic strips and comic books, puzzle books and reading materials, playing cards, fidget spinners, Hasbro ‘Duel Decks’ and other games are all items we include to add a little ‘fun’ to our recipients’ day!
  • Hygiene kits and socks: Some of the most requested items we include are Purell hand sanitizer, DUDE Wipes, O’Keeffe’s Working Hands Cream, as well as a fresh pair of Roadrunner’s DryMax socks!

A Service Member sent this feedback recently:

“I received one of your care packages today….  I was most excited about two things. Not just any Girl Scout cookies, but my favorite (Do-Si-Dos)!  The other thing was the O’Kee​f​fe’s skincare kit. As you can imagine, it is much needed in Kuwait with the sand, heat, and hard water. Another Soldier on my team was really excited about the black socks and Combos. As you can see, it’s the little things… that we greatly appreciate.”  

One item that we receive a ton of feedback on (and fantastic pictures of) is Beanie Babies, which our volunteers have donated hundreds of thousands of over the years. While they serve as a colorful and fun reminder of home and make great mascots; we also consistently hear that care package recipients give these toys, as well as other games and treats, away to local children to build goodwill in the towns and communities where they are serving.

Another question I hear over and over again is, “How can I help?” Here are just a few suggestions:

  • Collect “Wish List” items. These are the things we need most right now to ensure our care packages are full of highly-requested, useful and fun reminders of home. Engage your school, community, family and friends to help! 
  • Handmade items are the most cherished by our care package recipients. While you might not be able to knit a scarf or make a paracord bracelet, you can write a thank you letter offering your personal gratitude for the service and sacrifice of our nation’s Heroes!
  • Sponsor a Care Package. Every flat rate USPS box that we send to a deployed Troop costs up to $15 to ship. Whether you help us send one or 100 care packages, we will put a card in each box with your name as the sponsor.

During my son’s service in the Marine Corps, we sent care packages to remind him of home and let him know we were thinking of him. As an Operation Gratitude volunteer I have helped send hundreds of thousands of care packages to young men and women in uniform just like him, Heroes serving on the front lines, both far away and here at home. Now as our Director of Operations, I am privileged to be part of a team – a family of volunteers nationwide – that is both continuing the tradition to Thank All Who Serve, and growing the number of care package recipients we thank each month.

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