You've Got Mail! The Old-Fashioned Kind

by Marcia Mangum Cronin

In these days of constant electronic communications, I'm convinced that the thrill of getting "real" mail has increased—especially so for college students. My daughter just started college in August, so maybe the novelty will wear off, but for now, I get a big kick out of packing up a care package and waiting to hear from her when she receives it. And she always responds enthusiastically when a package arrives. Lest you think it's all about the food or the monetary value of the "stuff," she also told me how much she enjoyed getting a card in the mail from my sister—with no money or food attached. I think she likes knowing that someone took the time to show they were thinking about her.


If you want to send a care package, remember that it need not be expensive to buy or mail—and it doesn't have to be homemade. A friend of mine realized that she hadn't sent her daughter anything homemade during her first year in college. No problem. I'm sure her daughter appreciated how her mom had selected her favorite goodies from their favorite store and sent them to her throughout the year.

College can be emotionally trying, so I'm hoping these little packages filled with extra love will be good for my daughter's mental health, even if the contents aren't always strictly healthy!  

Here are a few tips for packing a care package:

  • Look for relatively lightweight treats—things like bags of microwave popcorn, flavored rice cakes, graham crackers, cereal bars, tea bags and hot chocolate packets.
  • Keep in mind how well they'll travel. Chips will likely arrive pulverized, but a securely packaged sleeve of cookies or a small container of nuts will travel well. Most chocolates are best avoided in summer heat, but coated candies like M&Ms stand a good chance of survival.
  • Throw in a few favorite toiletries. My daughter uses a good-quality cuticle cream, and it's not cheap, so restocking her supply of that and other cosmetics periodically is much appreciated. Guys are a little tougher in this department, but they are also unlikely to shop for themselves, so consider replenishing their face cleaner, deodorant or razors.
  • If you plan to cook, think about how the food will look (and taste) when it arrives. In hot weather, avoid food that will likely melt or spoil. In fall and winter, most cookies, candies, loaf cakes and muffins will probably arrive in good shape. If sweets aren't their cup of tea, homemade cheese straws or wafers make a fine treat.
  • If you're mailing a bottle or can, be sure it is thick and not likely to break or leak. Put it in a sealable plastic bag and wrap it in bubble wrap—or be safe and avoid anything that will break or leak.
  • Find the right-sized container. Sturdy shoeboxes work well. If your package is heavy, it may pay to use one of postal service's Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes, where you can mail as much as you want for a set price ($4.95 for the small box; $10.70 for medium size). Priority Mail packages usually reach their destination in two to three days. (The cookies will still be fresh!)
  • Wrap individual items, as needed. If you've baked a loaf cake, wrap it in plastic wrap and then foil to seal in freshness. Package homemade cookies tightly in foil or a close-fitting tin. Use bubble wrap around anything that could get squashed.
  • Package securely. The more tightly you pack the box, the fewer packing materials you'll need to use. You can wrap the goodies in things that could be useful: a hand towel or dish cloth, new socks or an extra pillowcase (in case they don't do laundry as often as you'd like). Packing peanuts, wadded up newspaper or tissue paper and bubble wrap are good for filling cracks, or take the more environmentally friendly route and use air-popped popcorn (no butter or oil—don't want your kid opening an oily mess!).
  • Mark the address clearly and correctly. Use a permanent marker, and if you're using mailing labels, cover them with clear tape to make sure they stay put. (You don't want to go to all this work only to have your goodies wind up "undeliverable.")
  • Don't sweat it! If you don't have time to put together your own "care package," many universities offer an alternative. You can sign up for a "care package program," where the college sends various themed care packages to your son or daughter throughout the year (for a price, of course). It may not be quite as personal, but it's still nice to get mail and know you're not forgotten.
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