Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Help from a MilWife

Hey there!  Let me start by introducing myself.  My name is Cat, of The Cat's Pajamas.  I am by no means an expert, but I've mailed hundreds (yes, really) of packages to The Husband and our squadron while on deployments.  I'm going to help out a little by giving a few tips for what to send and instructions for those pesky customs forms that seem to be such a bother...

Lets start with your package itself.  
My greatest success is found when using one of those cheap Ziplock Snap and Seal containers that measure about 12" x 6" x 4".  Line the bottom of the container with 2-3 sheets of folded paper towels or napkins.  Inside the fold that is going to be closest to the cookies, tuck a few pieces of apple peel.  This is an old throwback to the days when Granddad was fighting in WWII and my grandmama would send goodies to him.  I've tried the bread before and have received reports from "over there" that the bread has molded.  Of course, that doesn't stop the men from eating what's under the molded bread... but let's try and prevent that from happening.  Mmm, kay?  We wouldn't want all your selfless, hard work to go to waste!  Layer the cookies in a single layer, take another paper towel, fold it in half and tuck another little apple peel into the fold, repeat until you get to the top.  At the top fold another 2-3 paper towels, again with a small piece of apple peel in the fold closest to the cookies.  Tape the container shut, these boxes get thrown... so if you go through the paper towel trick and then tape the container shut, you're cookies are pretty much guaranteed to arrive safely.

On to cookies:
Make a cookie that makes you think of home.  They don't need to be fancy: just simple, sweet and home baked.  The JarHead Brother prefers chocolate chip, along with most of the guys in his MEU.  I mail all sorts of cookies to The Husband, as I don't want him to get bored.  I tend to sway away from hard, crunchy cookies because the cookies loose a little oomph when mailed already.  So- very simply, make a cookie that when you smell it... you think "home."  Oh! and use real butter if you can afford it.

If you're interested in filling a box of just plain old goodies here are a few suggestions:
Granola, home made or purchased
Trail mix
Packaged tuna
Candy, things like Sweet Tarts, Mentos, Skittles, etc. (chocolate and gummies will melt)
BEEF Jerky (absolutely NO pork products)
Canned foods (no PORK and beans though)
Crystal Light or Kool-Aide single serving packets

If you have questions about something you'd like to send and you're not sure about it... email me at cats (dot) pajamas08 (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll help you out.

Finally, that pesky customs form the Post Office likes to confuse us with...

Here's the form...

In Section 1, Sender's Information: fill out your own information.  You need to put your real name and address in that box because the Post Office will require you to sign the form.
In Section 2, Recipient Information: fill in the destination.  
First line is the name of of the person or unit/squadron you're shipping to.
Second line is the funny little unit label and box number.
Third line is where the APO, FPO, etc. goes along with the zip code.

MSgt Gomer Pyle   -- person, unit or squadron
CMR 123, Box 456  -- unit code, squadron code and box number
APO, AE 12345       -- this is the city/state/zip for the military installation it goes to
"AA" stands for Armed Forces America (meaning they're stateside)
"AE" stands for Armed Forces Europe (meaning they're stationed in Europe)
"AP" stands for Armed Forces Pacific (meaning they're stationed in the Pacific)

In Section 3, Contents: list the contents of your package (the whole box if you put more than cookies in there)  It doesn't have to be detailed, you can fill the box with cookies, candy, postcards, etc and simply state on the form: Homemade Cookies, Candy, Postcard.  You don't have to individually list these items... just a general "tada!" of what's to be expected.  If you don't fill this out (I'd be surprised if the mail clerk would let you go) they'll have to open and inspect the box.  You don't want this to happen because it can delay the delivery of your box upwards of months.  

Check Airmail/Priority 

Check Gift

In Section 4, Quantity/Weight: You don't have to list 31 cookies, 22 mints, 1 chapstick.  I usually just leave this blank and they don't mind.  The mail clerk will fill in the weight on the bottom of the form, so don't bother yourself with the weight either.

In Section 5, Value:  If you purchased items to go into your box, just write down what you spent.  

In Section 6, Total Value:  Just add up section 5.  I usually declare about $15.  Anything over $500 they'll ask you to purchase insurance.

In Section 7, Senders Request: Check the box that you want.  I usually check "Treat as Abandoned" because there's usually just goodies in there and I don't necessarily need them back.  If you want your box returned to you if your buddy/unit for some reason cannot accept it, simply check "return to sender," you'll be charged for return postage though.

Sign and Date the bottom.

It's simple.  I promise.  I usually grab a pile of customs forms at the post office and fill them out at home because I'm a Type A who has to have all my things together.  If you want to fill it out at the post office, or online... feel free. 

Occasionally, I've been asked to fill out a little green form (it's about 3"x 3") but not always.  This is the same information as what goes on the other form... just not as much info is required.  The green form is not used in lieu of that train wreck above, but in addition to.

Some important things to note:
The men over there really want a connection to home, meaning the States.  Grab a couple postcards from your local city/state.  Drop a line or two on the back of the postcard, maybe write your web address so the soldier/airmen/marine/seaman can check up on you and drop you a thank you.  They like to say thanks.  You can always write a few lines about yourself, why you felt compelled to send them cookies or just say thanks for their service.  

**Please, please, please do not send pork products (pork won't make it there, as this is an insult to the country these men are probably in).

I hope this helps!  If you have questions, please don't hesitate to ask me.  I'd be more than happy to help.  Thanks for doing this for our men and women.  You just don't know how this touches their hearts.  

~The Cat's Pajamas


TNelson said...

Is there anyone for those of use who faithfully read food blogs but don't "do" a blog to participate? Any ideas on where to find an address where we might bake and send goodies to someone we don't know but who would like to receive a package from home?


Trish Nelson
Omaha NE

Kayte said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you...this is INCREDIBLY helpful.

Michelle Dargen said...

Thank you so much! I sent my package out on Monday with bread in with the cookies. I am now praying it doesn't get all moldy. Ugh!

I printed out your entry so I can keep it on hand for the next round. :)

Liz (wishes) said...

on AnySoldier.com, they specifically say "Note: Due to concerns for the health and safety of the Soldiers, and as much as we don't want to say this, please do not send home-cooked anything to Soldiers other then to your relatives or people who know you. Factory packaged only. Sorry. The Soldiers are told to throw away anything that is not in a factory package."

Anonymous said...

lis (wishes),

I just spoke with The Husband and he says that he's never been told to throw away goods that are not factory packaged. He strongly suggests that when given a name, we drop a line saying we're a blogging group that supports the troops, we're online acquaintances of... whoever the name is.

Yes, he would be slightly suspicious but if the box of home baked goodies came with a note explaining who/what they do... he would most likely eat it after checking the website.

Thanks for your comment, we live in rough times where there's really no guarantee. I truly appreciate it.
~The Cat's Pajamas

Anonymous said...

Sorry- me again. The Husband is sitting behind me and informed me that sounded rude- not my intention, I promise. To clarify- The Husband or any of his men have never personally been told to discard any home baked items, that does not mean that other troops have not been given this advice.

~The Cat's Pajamas

Sherry Trifle - Lovely Cats said...

Thank you so much - this has made the whole thing so much easier for a first time sender. Do you think it's a good idea to put Susan's name on the package under my own for "Sender" with something like From: Heather Peskin/per Susan Wertzel so the recipient will know it's a familiy connection?

Dianne's Dishes said...

Good tips!

I had a friend who was stationed in Baghdad that I used to send packages to (he is headed back over there in October) and the one thing he asked for in every package was freezy pops. He would share them with his friends, but I used to send 200 or more in each package. He said it really helped beat the heat.

Another thing he always said came in hand was personal items as they run low. Toilet paper, deodorant, shampoo, tooth brushes, toothpaste, lotion, etc. And he always suggested unscented toiletries.

Melissa said...

Is there an address to send to? I don't personally know anybody "over there" but would love to help!

Catherine said...

Generally what is the cost of postage?

Michelle Dargen said...

Catherine - I used a large flat rate box. The cost was 10.95.

With the flat rate boxes you can fill them as full as you want and the price won't change. They are a great deal if you have a lot to send.

Jennie said...

I'm not visualizing the apple peel thing very well. Could you post step by step pictures?
My brother would LOVE some homemade goodies.

CarolAnn said...

The son of our friends just went over to Iraq. The other son AND the dad (a chaplin) will be over there soon. I want to send them goodies. This is the most informative anything I've seen about sending packages. Are the flat rate boxes something you get at the post office? I'd sure be interested in getting some and filling them up. If so I'll get some along with the forms the next time I go to town.

I think some Operation Baking Gals stickers might be great to put on the packages, to let the guys and gals know it's a group effort from home and safe. Just a thought. I love that pic of the gal flexing her muscle.
I'm sure glad I found this blog.
Thanks Ladies!!

Anonymous said...

Shery Trifle-
You can certainly put Susan's name inside the box on the postcard. I believe Susan is organizing a group of men and women who are currently serving and she's divvying up the responsibility to all- then the blogger who knows the person overseas will post pictures and links to everyone. It wouldn't hurt to put the bakingGALS address on there.

Diane's Dishes-
Thanks for the added list... do you mind if I put it in the next post so it's more visible?

Thanks for putting the postage on. I should have mentioned in the post that you're not mailing overseas... the APO, AE address is a stateside address... therefore you pay US Postage.


I will make cookies tomorrow and hopefully throw a picture post up about the apple peels.


You can pick up the flat-rate boxes at the post office. The box itself is FREE... but you can't fill it so full that it bulges... you'll have to pay full postage at that point. Just ask the counter for "Flat Rate boxes" if there aren't any out in the common area.

~The Cat's Pajamas

Katy said...

I must be losing my mind -- when I first read the title of this post, I thought it said "help from a midwife" and thought it was going to be about delivering the baby!

I am obviously nuts. But nuts are good in baking, right? :-)

Mer said...

This is great info! Thanks!

Adrienne said...

thanks for the great packing tips, I would like to add, that anything containing "nut" products be packaged separately, so those having nut allergies can also enjoy the nut free items. You may also want to label your package as containing nut products just in case.

Sandy Smith said...


Karyl said...

What an awesome group! I have also read that Anysoldier.com recommends that you put on your customs form to deliver to a chaplain if it's undeliverable. That way he can distribute the goodies if your soldier is no longer at that particular location.

Mandy said...

Just wanted to share a tip with everyone in case you didnt' know--they told me at my local Post Office that if you fill out everything online (Click N Ship--print and pay for a shipping label) except the customs form, it will get there faster because it bypasses some of their sorting facilities. They can simply scan the label and it goes faster. My last box arrived in 10 days, which is pretty good. www.usps.com

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