Deadlines approaching for sending care packages overseas

By Jennifer Bowen - email

(RNN) - For troops serving overseas, holidays like Christmas are often spent far from home in the deserts of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan.

Care packages are one means families have of connecting with loved ones during the holidays. But even mail from strangers can provide a service member a much-needed lift.

For safety reasons, you cannot generally send a care package directly to a soldier you don't know. But you can still pack a box.

Organizations like Support Our Troops act as a bridge between soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and Americans who want to encourage a stranger in uniform half a world away.

"Relatives send stuff to relatives, but strangers can't," said Martin Boyer with Support Our Troops. "We get emails every week from unit commanders, chaplains and they'll request items. We have their contact information and they give us everything we need and we're able to pack unit-sized boxes up."

The deadline for getting a care package into Support Our Troops is Dec. 15.

Boyer says that powdered drink mix, USB memory sticks, hard candy and wet wipes are some of the most requested items by troops. Other popular items include lip balm, ear buds, phone cards, iTunes cards, disposable razors and tooth brushes.

"Those very basic things make it a little easier," he said. "Just getting something, anything from home lets you know you're not forgotten. That's a big part of it."

He recalls receiving an email from a commander who told of soldier who had not received a care package during her tenure overseas - all the more upsetting for her since she was responsible for picking up the mail for her squadron every day.

Support Our Troops packed up a box and later received a thank you note.

"I wanted to thank you for sending out the care package to my airman. She received the box today and was literally in tears. She could not believe there was someone who addressed a box specifically to her. It felt like Christmas to her."

For Boyer, letters like these bring the mission of Support Our Troops home.

"[The gifts] come from individual American people who know about them, who care about them," Boyer said. "We put a note in there telling the troops that this came from people in Texas, Minnesota, Georgia, because we want them to know that everyday people are looking out for them."

If you're sending a care package directly to a soldier, the post office has released deadlines to ensure delivery by Christmas.

Express Mail Military Service (EMMS)1/ First-Class Mail Letters and Cards Priority Mail Parcel Airlift Mail (PAL) 2/ Space Available Mail (SAM)3/
APO/FPO AE ZIPs 090-092 Dec. 18 Dec. 10 Dec. 10 Dec. 3
APO/FPO AE ZIP 093 N/A Dec. 4 Dec. 4 Dec. 1
APO/FPO AE ZIPs 094-098 Dec. 18 Dec. 10 Dec. 10 Dec. 3
APO/FPO AA ZIP 340 Dec. 18 Dec. 10 Dec. 10 Dec. 3
APO/FPO AP ZIPs 962-966 Dec. 18 Dec. 10 Dec. 10 Dec. 3