The last CARE Packages were mailed out in 1968 bringing the program to a close until the 1990s when it was briefly revived to help families in the former Soviet Union and victims of the civil war in Bosnia.
Several years ago, the organization rebranded CARE packages to communicate a new mission – one that focused more on development and community empowerment than relief. CARE packages were marketed as tool kits that delivered financial programs, education and political advocacy rather than food.
But research showed that most people did not associate the organization with the ubiquitous term that it helped to brand.
“There have been a lot of discussions over the years about reviving the CARE Package concept very generally,” Shepard said. The organization wanted to find a way to connect the term they coined in a more meaningful way to the work they were doing, he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented an opportunity to connect a part of the organization’s expertise to its history, though it looks a bit different now than it did 75 years ago.
CARE Packages contain a range of foods for vulnerable families impacted by COVID-19. Atlanta-based CARE relaunched its CARE Package Program during the pandemic, the first time it is operating in the U.S. since the program was created in 1945.
The revised model provides food to those in need, but also utilizes underemployed or unemployed gig economy workers to support food relief organizations such as food pantries and shelters. Many of these nonprofits have struggled to keep up with increased demand brought on by the pandemic. For example, a worker from Task Rabbit may be sent to work in food distribution at Purpose Built School’s Thomasville Elementary School, Shepard said.
A version for frontline workers allows individuals to sponsor a CARE Package with a gift card and personalized note as sign of appreciation for the sacrifices these workers are making during the pandemic, he said.
The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation funded the effort which is also made possible through partnerships with other local nonprofits including Chris 180, Concrete Jungle and Purpose Built Schools Atlanta.
“It came together very quickly and we said this was a moment to press play. To stop deliberating about what is the best way to do the CARE Package and just try some things,” Shepard said.
While the Atlanta program is the anchor for the CARE Package Relief program, there are also similar efforts in the Bay Area and central California. The organization hopes to expand the program to other cities including Houston, Louisville and Chicago.