Military Families Can Stretch Their Budget Thanks to USO No Dough Dinners

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By Chris Miller

Once a month, many military families struggle with making it from one paycheck to the next. And when “dough” runs a little low for these military families right before payday, they can sometimes be limited to eating cheap and often-unhealthy food options. That’s why USO No Dough Dinners were created.

USO No Dough Dinners provide the military community with a free, healthy meal – no questions asked – in that time period right before payday. The reality of military life, with its constant moves from state-to-state, means that it is difficult for military spouses to maintain a career, and so many families must rely on the single income of their service member. This can impact everything in their lives, including what groceries they choose to buy, and so dinner programs like these can make a significant difference in the lives of our military families.

The USO of Illinois has been supporting the military community of Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois, for decades. However, a few years ago, it quickly became apparent that while young sailors on base could easily access USO services, it was sometimes more challenging for military families – living in family housing farther away – to make it to the USO center on base and take advantage of those same programs.

“We knew the USO was providing great meals for the young A-School Sailors on Great Lakes at the USO center, but we felt we were missing an audience by not having something for the families,” said retired Navy Capt. Jim Hawkins, the then-commander of Naval Station Great Lakes.

Organizing an entire family outing over to the base for a USO No Dough Dinner can be challenging with children in tow – especially if a military spouse is on their own, while their service member is deployed. That’s why USO Great Lakes decided to take their No Dough Dinners straight to our military families’ doorsteps.

Photo credit USO Photo

Military families enjoy a USO Dough Dinner, courtesy of USO Great Lakes.

The idea to take No Dough Dinners off-base for military families unable to attend dinner at the USO center on base came about after Hawkins asked the USO specifically for help in supporting military families.

“Always in search of quality events for our military families, Naval Station staff and the USO worked together … with a unified focus of supporting and thanking our military families,” Hawkins said.

Now, the Community Center gym near the military family housing comes alive six times a year when the USO Great Lakes Center team takes its No Dough Dinner program on the road to meet the needs of our military families.

“The awesome meal provided by the USO … created a quality, free, fun event that celebrates the military family and our military community,” Hawkins said.

These off-base, family-focused No Dough Dinners have been very popular with military families who attend not only because they provide a free meal, but because they promote community-building and time together for families who often spend months apart. A family who has been coming to No Dough Dinners for three years said adding the off-base meals has helped them manage their time together.

“Before I found out about the No Dough Dinners in family housing, if I wanted to attend, I would have to take our two young boys over to the center on base,” said a Navy lieutenant assigned to the Naval Operations Support Center. “We did that for a while, but now, we can stay in the housing area and actually walk to the Community Center for a meal.”

Bringing No Dough Dinners off-base has also inspired the surrounding civilian community to get involved as well, who normally struggle to bridge that military-civilian divide. Companies such as PepsiCo have been supporting the USO in serving No Dough Dinners for years.

PepsiCo Valor volunteers serve an off-base USO No Dough Dinner at the Community Center in family housing at Naval Station Great Lakes. | Photo credit USO Photo

“The experience is very rewarding to all our PepsiCo Valor volunteers and shows the military community that their efforts are greatly appreciated,” said Jack Detzel, PepsiCo Valor Chicago & Field Co-Chair. “The No Dough Dinners are a fantastic way to say thanks for your service and provides a way for our team to connect to the military directly. We love seeing all the families that attend the off-base No Dough Dinners in the Community Center.”

According to USO Great Lakes Center Manager Jeremiah Avers, these off-base No Dough Dinners have been a great way to reach a population of military and their families who otherwise might not be able to attend.

“Since I’ve been here, the off-base Family No Dough Dinners have evolved into more than just providing food,” said Avers. “We help provide an event and an opportunity for families to get out of their house for a few hours, socialize with other families and take advantage of a special USO program.”

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