Pack 'em up, ship 'em out
It's thrilling to get a package in the mail, but not so great if the box looks as though it has been through the mulcher. Here are ways to make sure your holiday gifts get to their destinations in one piece:
THE BOX: Use a sturdy corrugated cardboard box that can handle being tossed about and is large enough to hold gifts plus packaging materials. Also, avoid exceeding the box's weight limit, which is often written on the box. It's okay to reuse boxes, says Sharon Tennison, a U.S. Postal Service district communications spokeswoman. Just make sure they're in good condition, and remove or cover old labels and markings with heavy black marker. Use two-inch-wide clear or brown packaging tape to secure the box. Don't use string, which can get snagged by machinery.
PACKAGING: Place contents in the middle of the box and surround them with a couple of inches of packing material on all sides. "Oftentimes people underestimate how much packaging" to include, says UPS spokesman Malcolm Berkley, but you want to minimize empty space so contents don't move around. If you're sending multiple items, Berkley adds, wrap each one in bubble wrap. It's also helpful to nest like items such as bowls, says FedEx packing lab manager Jay Gillman, with a layer of bubble wrap, an old sheet or a towel in between.
BAKED GOODS: Sending these can be tricky. Sturdier treats such as sugar cookies and biscotti ship better, Gillman says. If your package will traverse multiple temperature zones, it's best not to send foods that can melt. Use the fastest method of delivery so goodies arrive fresh.
For packaging, Gillman advises putting baked goods in a container with a lid, layering multiple items between sheets of wax paper and filling the container's empty spaces with crumpled wax paper or paper towels. Then fasten the lid with packing tape and place the whole thing in a cardboard box with more cushioning around it. If you're sending soft treats such as pies or cakes, freeze them first, Gilman suggests. Then package them and freeze the entire cardboard box, if possible, before shipping.
MILITARY CARE PACKAGES: These can be sent via the U.S. Postal Service. Sites such as Anysoldier.com and Soldiersangels.com can help. Basic necessities service men and women request include socks, toiletries, bug repellent, nonperishable foods, books and pads of paper to pass the time.