As I have mentioned elsewhere, my father was one of those who sent CARE packages to Europe (from Illinois) after the Second World War. Whenever he could spare ten dollars, which was a lot of money in those days, he ordered a CARE package to be sent off to relatives in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and later Germany. Packages to Germany were not allowed for the first half year, because of an American government policy of aiding other countries first.
CARE was founded in 1945 as the “Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe.” This organization got permission from the American government to send U.S. Army surplus “10-in-1” food parcels to Europe. These were boxes of rations that had been prepared in great numbers to feed American soldiers (ten soldiers for one day or one soldier for ten days) during the planned invasion of Japan, which then never happened because Japan surrendered after the dropping of the atomic bombs.
At the end of the war, these rations were stored in a warehouse in the Philippines. CARE arranged for them to be returned to the United States for repackaging and shipment to Europe, where people were in dire need of food after the war. For ten dollars, people living in America could arrange to have one of these parcels shipped to their relatives or friends in Europe, where it was “guaranteed” to arrive within four months. Some of my father’s CARE packages took longer than that, especially the earlier ones, but from his notes it appears that most of them arrived eventually, within five or six months at the latest.
From this list of packages, I learned that he sent a total of 114 packages between 1946 and 1948, but fewer than a third of them were CARE packages. The rest were packages he assembled himself, consisting mainly of used clothing donated by his friends and neighbors, along with food items that were in short supply in Europe, such as “spices, 5 lbs sugar, 2½ lbs chocolate…”
When I went through my father’s papers after his death, I found numerous letters thanking him profusely for these packages, which evidently filled a real need in the first few years after the war.
In this letter from Hungary, his sister said she was able to trade the packets of coffee in the CARE packages for “2½ kg lard or 15 kg flour, which is a very big help for us, since I don’t know how I could otherwise get flour to bake bread.”
But she kept the chocolate and used it herself for baking, for special occasions. “I also kept the soap for us, because that is very necessary.”
In the same letter, she wrote that she traded the cigarettes in the CARE packages “because none of us smoke.”
I later read that several members of the CARE board of directors wanted to remove the cigarettes, which were originally intended for American soldiers in Japan, but decided not to because that would have meant opening and resealing 2.8 million boxes. Which was just as well, because cigarettes were so valuable they were often used as money all over Europe for the first two or three years after the war.
My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2024.