Sharing the Comforts of Home: RPCV-LA Members Send Care Packages to Volunteers
By Guest Contributor on Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013
While we may be in the middle of a long, hot summer, its never too early to start thinking about the holidays! The holiday season gives us all a chance to gather with loved ones, share meals, and give gifts. Peace Corps Volunteers serving in the field, though, are far from home and the comforts that go along with it. To boost the spirits of serving Volunteers, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer member group, RPCV-LA, has organized a network of RPCVs to get together, gather items, and send care packages to Volunteers across the globe. Whether the packages serve as a Christmas surprise or a July pick-me-up, the members of RPCV-LA are making sure that even Volunteers a world a way can enjoy a little taste of home!
I opened the unexpected package from my sister to find a jar of the much-missed mustard, along with a bag of mysterious herbs, chocolate, peanut butter and other items. The herbs turned out to be mint and hibiscus leaves, which yielded a deep-red infusion perfect for combating the Andean chill at 3400 meters above sea level.
Many Peace Corps Volunteers remember the boost to our spirits brought by a thoughtful gift of food, magazines and other comfort items. Someone back home was thinking of us and had gone out of their way to prepare and send a care package.
Alison Thieme, who served in Madagascar from 2009 to 2011 as an environment, reforestation and agriculture Volunteer, wanted to pass that gift on to currently serving Volunteers. She approached her local Returned Volunteer group, RPCV-LA, with the idea of organizing a network of returned Volunteers in the Los Angeles area, and the group “has run with the idea.” They have received more than 200 requests and have sent out 80 packages. Marta Whitmore, also of RCPV-LA, set up the website, and Alison set up the email address.
After discussing the idea for six months, the group kicked off their efforts at a holiday party in December, attended by sixty people. The party-goers brought in requested items, including magazines and candy. They received more items than they could use at that time, and Thieme noted that people seem more willing to contribute items than to donate $20 to pay for envelopes and postage. After the holiday party, eight volunteers stuffed and addressed envelopes.
Packages have gone out to Volunteers across the globe. Several have gone to West African countries, Ukraine and Georgia, and a few to countries in theSouth Pacific, Central America and China. The group received a spate of requests from Peru after a Volunteer there heard about the initiative and spread the word.
Volunteers can make specific requests on the online form, although some do not. Most request candy, especially Reeses Peanut Butter cups and Reeses Pieces, Thieme said, adding that they sent a few nut-free packages. The group tried to include a note in every package, along with several food items and toiletries, including Q-tips and Band-Aids.
Thieme was motivated to start the project when she reflected on the ups and downs all Volunteers experience during their service. She recalled how a care package could provide some comfort and a connection with home.
Originally, she had thought to time delivery of the packages to celebrate holidays or mark significant points during service. Another initial idea was to match current and serving Volunteers, but the logistical challenge proved too great.
The group hopes to spread the good cheer by joining up with other Returned Volunteer groups and the NPCA to expand package deliveries. “We’d like all Volunteers to get one,” Thieme said. RPCV-LA has registered a general interest and willingness to reach out to Volunteers—one generous member has matched every package sent out by the group with his own bundles—but they face logistical challenges in expanding the project. RPCV-LA would like to partner with other groups to ensure that every serving Volunteer receives a package.
A big “thank you” from the National Peace Corps Association and the entire Peace Corps community to Eileen Willingham, Alison Thieme, and the RPCV-LA member group for sharing their story and for providing some comfort to those currently serving. Sometimes, in trying to “bring the world home,” its nice to have a little bit of home brought across the world to you!