The CARE Package
It seemed to me that we had heard about the CARE package forever. The CARE package was a food package from ordinary American citizens, who cared enough to help people in Europe during the recovery after World War 2. People could donate $10 and CARE included their name and address in a package. We waited and waited, hoping we would be lucky to have one delivered by the post mistress.
CARE – Cooperation for Assistance and Relief Everywhere – was founded in 1945, right after the end of the war, specifically to send relief to the starving people of Europe. Most subsisted on less than 800 calories per day.
A typical package contained: 4 pounds of meat (canned), 2 pounds of margarine, 1 pound lard, 2 pounds each flour, sugar and powdered milk, 1 pound of rice, 2 pounds coffee, 1 pound chocolate, 1 pound powdered eggs, 1 pound raisins, 1 jar each honey and marmalade and 4 pieces of soap.
The Allies agreed to rescind a prohibition of sending aid to occupied Germany. Finally, by the end of 1946 all of Germany was cleared to receive aid packages. During the Berlin Blockade 500,000 CARE packages were airlifted to the city in addition to all other needed supplies.
We were curious and waited. Nobody we knew had received a package. A few years went by. Then one day, I believe it was 1952, the package was sitting on the kitchen table when I came home from school. Wow! We had totally forgotten about it. Although at this time the quality of life was improving, this package was still a welcome sight.
The three of us huddled around the kitchen table and Mutti sliced open the seals with a large kitchen knife. She took out one can at a time: canned green beans, powdered milk, a package of margarine, cans of coffee, a bag of dried potato sticks, a box of raisins, flour, sugar, rice, Spam and Corned Beef.
Mutti looked everything over very carefully. She would use the sugar at Christmas time, the coffee would be saved for special occasions, the green beans could be added to any of the stews she made. Spam and Corned Beef would be served at one of our Sunday dinners, the only the time we had meat when it was available.
But what to do with powdered milk and powdered eggs? There were no instructions with any of the foods. Mutti mixed water and the powdered milk, but it tasted like…bad water, probably due to the powder/water ratio. She never attempted anything with the powdered eggs.
The large bag of dried potato sticks? Margot and I chewed on the sticks like gum. After a while they softened and tasted vaguely like potatoes.
At the bottom of the box was a slip of white paper with the name of the donors of this package. I was the only one with a scant knowledge of English. Being in 4th grade, the language was part of our curriculum. My teacher helped me with composing a thank you letter to the donor.
To my surprise, I received an air mail letter back from the daughter of the donor family. She was a year older than I. We wrote each other once or twice a year and I gleaned a little about life as a teenager in the United States. After high school the letters stopped.
CARE packages to Germany were phased out in the early sixties. The last one to Berlin was delivered in 1962.