Sunday, December 13, 2009

CARE PACKAGES - Did you know? I didn't.

Last week we sent a CARE PACKAGE to our daughter who is serving with the Army in Afghanistan. Describing the process in my previous Blog set me to thinking about the etymology of the term "Care package". I thought I knew, but some Google sniffing opened my eyes. I don't mean I read the wiki page for the term. I used Google news archive and followed the term back to its birth year - 1946.

If you were a Canadian child of the 1960s, the TV addicted generation, you probably have the broadcast pleas of the big box charities burned into your cranial circuitry. (I can scarcely repeat a joke heard last week, but I have a jukebox full of 40 year old jingles in my head.) I haven't seen the U.S.C. television spot for decades but I can still hear the halting voice of its founder and spokeswoman... "This is Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova of the Unitarian Service Committee, 56 Sparks Street, Ottawa 4" . I don't recall who spoke for C.A.R.E. but I do know that we all assumed that the "C" stood for Canadian, but we were wrong.
The original concept of the C.A.R.E. package was to folks to supplement the efforts of the Marshall Plan in Europe by directing a box of food directly to a relative in bombed out Europe. In 1948 a piece in the New York Times described the Marshall Plan itself as "an enormous CARE package", which indicates the usefulness of the term. The service was convenient. You sent C.A.R.E. the money (with an address of a needy family) and they tapped into the mountains of rations which the U.S. had shipped to European ports.

A photo of a 50 year old CARE Package, from the era of the Berlin Airlift.

In 1946 the Cooperative for American Remittance to Europe C.A.R.E. set up a tiny office in Ottawa - 73 Albert Street, which was still going strong in 1954, as you can read in the news clipping velow. By 1954 the stockpiles of wartime canned and dried foods were depleated and CARE - Canada was purchasing fresh stock from Canadian and U.S. suppliers. By that time the "E" in the acronym had been changed from "Europe" to include "Everywhere". In April 1955 CARE Canada stopped sending food packages to European destinations. Attention shifted to Asia and Africa.
For a CARE official to make a point of telling a news reporter that it was "strictly a new-commodity agency purchasing in bulk" leads me to believe that there was controversy at the time involving CARE's procurement practices.

I also find this comment interesting: "CARE's policy of sending overseas only new grade A quality materials has proved to be a psycholigically-sound policy..." I often think of the psychological impact of the charity my family and our neighbors received growing up in housing project in Saint John, N.B. in the 1960s. We never refused "second hand" anything and I remember everything about being needy. We kids would go to the church basement where used footwear was heaped on the floor, to try on boots till we had a match with our feet. I recall once a boy accusing me with "Hey, that was my coat." "No it's not." "Yes, and that pocket there is torn out. That's why my mom gave it away." He proceeded to prove it in front of his friends. I, rendered mute by the truth, had to stand there and let the donor have his moment.

C.A.R.E. stopped shipping CARE packages around 1964. Though we all use the term as a generic, the charity continues to renew the trademark. Plenty of charities which emerged from the World Wars and which once involved thousands of volunteers in labour intensive relief efforts, now simply solicit cash donations. They form the corp d'elite of international NGOs which we often see in the news.