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USO No Dough Dinners Deliver Financial Relief to Military Families

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

By Joseph Andrew Lee 

The dough can get stretched thin for military families.

“It’s usually right about the 13th and the 27th of the month,” said Army Spec. Will Daugherty, who struggles at times to feed his four children and his wife, Angel, who live with him at Fort Riley, Kan. “It’s always right before payday that we end up ordering pizza or eating off the dollar menu. It’s not ideal and the kids eat healthy when we can afford to, but you have to do what you have to do to get by, you know?”

Like most parents, Daugherty would rather see his kids eat food that’s nutritious. But keeping the house stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables can get expensive.

“About a year ago, I heard about these No Dough Dinners being offered by the USO,” he said. “I was curious. There’s always a meal option for us soldiers at the [dining facility], but not necessarily for our families.”

It was just a few days before payday and he saw the announcement from USO Fort Riley on his Facebook wall. Not being one to turn down a free meal, Daugherty figured he’d go check it out.

No Dough Dinners are designed to help troops and families who might struggle financially before payday. The maximum base pay for a specialist like Daugherty is $2,403 a month, or about $28,800 a year. That’s not going to go far with six mouths to feed.

“We usually hold two No Dough Dinners per month,” said April Blackmon, director of USO Fort Riley. “These dinners normally fall a couple business days before payday, and while we try to try to make sure we have fresh fruits and vegetables, sometimes families benefit just as well from a good ol’ fashioned barbecue.”

The trend of No Dough Dinners has caught on at USO centers across the nation. At Fort Riley, these free meals became a staple on post before an actual USO building was even erected.

“While the center was first being built, we organized local resources so that we could provide something – anything – to help enlisted families on [post],” Blackmon said. “Our first dinner in the summer of 2009 fed about 150 people, and the following one fed nearly 400.”

A secondary benefit of the dinners is to bring families together with each other and members of the local community who wish to show their support. USO Fort Riley and the local community provide these free dinners twice per month, and will continue doing so as long as the center can keep drumming up the same support.

“Most if not all of the food is donated or prepared by local businesses and the generous donation of time and cooking skills by previous generations of veterans,” Blackmon said. “Some of these veterans drive three hours to come here and do this. We are extremely grateful for their support, and can’t thank them enough.”

Having a free option to feed the family right before payday takes a lot of stress off lower-ranking enlisted troops. Blackmon and others involved say it’s one of the post’s most popular USO programs.

“Sometimes when you have a family, you don’t think of the things the USO does,” Daugherty said. “When I travel on orders by myself, I see the USO at the airport all the time, but now that it’s on base and my kids know about the USO, I think you’ll be seeing a lot more of us.

“I’m really glad I found out about this – right here on base. It helps us, you know? Right at the moment when we need it most.”

* * *

Photo caption: Above, USO volunteers at Fort Riley, Kan., serve up hot meals to military families during a No Dough Dinner just before a payday in 2011. Below, Retired Army CWO3 David Blazek, center, drives 150 miles twice per month from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Riley to cook No Dough Dinners for troops and their families just when they need it most. He’s been doing this since the summer of 2009, before a USO center was even built on base. He’s well-known for cooking everything from deep dish lasagna with fresh vegetables to hot roast beef, but Blazek’s signature dish – one the kids can’t get enough of – is called “Chunky Monkey” beef Stew. (Photos courtesy of USO Fort Riley) 

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