“It was a red letter day when packages arrived”

By: 
CARE
Gillian Roberts and her brother Christopher, photographed in September 1947

75 Years of CARE

CARE was set up in the USA in 1945 to send ‘CARE packages’ of food and other essential supplies to people in need in Europe after the end of World War 2. Gillian Roberts was one of the original recipients of these first CARE packages.

Gillian Roberts contacted CARE to share her story:

I have just found, amongst my late mother’s mementos, an envelope containing information from CARE, via Carter Paterson & Pickfords, dated September 1947.

Envelope

The letter informs us that a “gift from America”, a CARE parcel, was being sent to us from Jacksonville on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s (who was Princess Elizabeth at the time) wedding.

Note about marriage of Princess Elizabeth

This discovery has overwhelmed me with fond memories – it was a red letter day whenever packages arrived. 

My mother was widowed in April 1947 (my father was 31 years old and died after contracting tuberculosis). I was 4 when he died and my brother was only 2.

My mother also contracted the ghastly disease and was hospitalised for several years. I was raised – until I was 8 – by my maternal grandmother, and my brother Christopher stayed with an aunt and uncle.

These sad events were undoubtedly the reason our family was selected to be the beneficiaries of such kindness from our “American friends”.

I must have been at our home in Dartford, Kent when the first package from the US arrived.

I remember the overwhelming excitement as we opened it and out tumbled all these amazing goodies.

Information slip included in CARE package

My 4-year-old memory seems to recall a very large tin of ‘Cling’ brand sliced peaches, tins of peas, potatoes, evaporated milk and packs of cereal. My grandmother broke down into sobs of disbelief and I was both elated and confused.

I wonder if there was a pair of gloves and a scarf in there too – or did I just imagine that?

The parcels were full of fantastic surprises and we were always excited when we saw the Carter Paterson lorry. We were still rationed at that time, so anything from America was delicious, because it was so different from the usual bland food on offer.

It was an utterly surreal experience and one which my family remembered with joy. I can state quite categorically that I have never forgotten that day 68 years ago!!

It was a life-changing moment for me, although I was probably not aware of the huge impact it made at the time. It was in my early-teens (not a term used in the ’50s!) when I began to obsess about moving to the US and in 1967 I left England for New York. I spent 15 fantastic years in America before moving back here in the 1980s.

Letter from Pickfords

This story was first published in 2015.

Tell us your story about the kindness of a stranger

To mark CARE’s 75th year we want to share stories that celebrate the power of the kindness of strangers and inspire people to take action today. So if you have a story of how a stranger’s act of kindness, no matter how big or small, has left a mark on your life please get in touch. Email Hannah Richards: Richards@careinternational.org

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.