The CARE package instinct

Laurie Lee
In 75 years the contents of a CARE package may have changed but people's instinct to help each other remains just as strong

The local and global reaction to the COVID-19 crisis shows us that the instinct to give CARE packages and to help others is as strong today as it was 75 years ago. 

Most of us have given or received a care package in the last few weeks during this coronavirus lockdown. We have been leaving food parcels on the doorsteps of vulnerable neighbours or family who can't go out to shop for themselves. People are donating to food banks or finding ways to do things like give toys and tablets to families with children who don't have much.

For many of us, it’s the first time we’ve had to worry about scarcity of basic goods (toilet paper!), or had to really think hard about how and when we will get the food we need to feed our households. We’ve felt that sense of excitement and relief when goods arrive whether they come from an online shop, a supportive friend or volunteers. 

It’s been encouraging to see that giving and receiving care packages has been a common and instinctive response during this pandemic. This is just as it was for the Americans who created CARE in the aftermath of World War 2.

On VE Day, 8 May 1945, there were celebrations across Europe as peace broke out. But the damage of the war would last much longer than the war itself. And it wasn't long before the pictures of people celebrating peace outside Buckingham Palace were replaced by photographs of long queues for food and news of people going hungry. 

A group of welfare organisations in the USA formed the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe to send much needed supplies to those people facing scarcity and hunger. And so, the phrase ‘CARE package’ was coined. 

Over the next 20 years, American citizens sent 100 million CARE packages to families around the world, who needed help after the second world war, including many to Britain. And the name stuck.  

What goes in a CARE package?

As you put together a CARE package for your friend or neighbour, you think about what they need, what will make a difference. You ask them what they have run out of, what they want. And everything CARE does is always done in consultation with local communities to understand first what their needs, priorities, suggestions and preferences are. 

The original CARE packages usually contained food. They were the types of foods that families need, foods that were hard to come by on rations. Now we often give cash for people to choose and buy their own food, sustaining the local economy. 

Child looking at CARE package contents
The 10,000th parcel. Frances Mason, 4 years old, examines with delight the contents of a CARE parcel sent to her widowed mother, UK

In the 1940s, a basic carpentry kit enabled families to make or repair furniture. Today, CARE's Shelter Kits provide basic tools, materials and advice, to help people rebuild their homes back better after they are destroyed by hurricanes, earthquakes or even bombs. 

CARE distribute shelter kits in Malinao, Aklan ( Panay Island) funded by DEC.
CARE distribute shelter kits in Malinao, Aklan ( Panay Island, Philippines)

In 2020, of course, CARE’s work doesn’t (always) mean sending real boxes around the world. It is about having the biggest impact, reaching the most vulnerable. 

A new global emergency

75 years after VE day, we are all faced with a new shared global crisis. CARE is working to be able to respond to COVID-19 in 63 countries. We will distribute soap and other essential hygiene items to vulnerable communities, particularly in refugee camps; increase access to safe water sources; run information campaigns; provide PPE; help protect women from gender based violence; and give cash to those with lost livelihoods. 

Keep making those CARE packages for your local neighbours and friends. And if you can, help us provide modern day CARE packages to vulnerable people around the world by supporting CARE’s vital work responding to the coronavirus.

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Laurie Lee's picture

Laurie Lee is Chief Executive of CARE International UK – Read his blog posts on our Insights policy and practice website