Military Communities Stay Connected with USO Digital Cooking Classes and Remote Food Programs During COVID-19 Pandemic

By Sandi Gohn and Danielle DeSimone

Many people around the world have been encouraged – and in some cases, required – to social distance, self-isolate or quarantine themselves at home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With newfound time on their hands and nowhere to go, people are turning to common stress-relieving activities: cooking and baking.

USO locations on bases both at home and abroad are beloved for their community-building meals, cooking classes and morale-boosting snack deliveries to our service members and military families. However, with the spread of the coronavirus and the temporary suspension of operations within the walls of several USO locations, USO teams have had to get creative.

As the saying goes, “an army marches on its stomach.” So, to ensure that our military community remains supported – and well-fed – during these challenging times, the USO is connecting with service members, military spouses and military kids through digital cooking classes and remote food programs.

Virtual Cooking Classes and Tutorials

In Stuttgart, Germany, where the USO center is temporarily closed, the USO team has adapted to offering virtual programming aimed at military spouses, children and service members who are quarantined at home and are looking for connection through food.

One of the first digital programs offered was a virtual cooking class, which was livestreamed through Facebook on March 18. Lead by USO staffer Tori Bogue, viewers learned how to make a healthy, vegetarian pasta meal using several pantry staples.

In Naples, Italy, where the USO center is also temporarily closed, USO staffer Luisa Mazzella and her two children hosted a recipe explainer video on March 19 ahead of a livestreamed lunch cooking class they will host via the center’s Facebook page on Saturday, March 21. The explainer video, which was also livestreamed on Facebook, walked viewers through all the ingredients they will need to participate in Saturday’s virtual cooking activity.

Photo credit USO Naples

USO staffer Luisa Mazzella and her two children hosted a recipe explainer video on March 19.

Over in Vicenza, in northern Italy, where the USO center is temporarily closed, the team has taken a different approach to its digital program offerings and has started posting a daily “Creative Corner” Facebook post. Although these posts vary in topic each day, on March 15, the team offered up a tasty Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.

A tasty chocolate chip cookie recipe and trick from USO Vicenza. | Photo credit USO Vicenza

Dropping Snacks and Crafts to PCSing Families in Germany

While some USO locations are virtually providing cooking lessons and tips, others are – safely – delivering snacks and craft items to military personnel and their families who are in the midst of a “PCS move;” that is, moving from one duty station to the next. Due to the coronavirus, there is a temporary ban on permanent change of station (PCS) and temporary duty assignment (TDY) travel for service members and their families.

Many of these PCSing families had already packed up all their belongings and kitchen supplies but must now remain where they are – without their personal items – and await further instructions from the military.

That’s why, in Baumholder, Germany, the USO team prepared and delivered bags full of supplies, snacks and craft items to PCSing military families living in temporary housing, to keep spirits high, families fed and children entertained.

Photo credit USO Baumholder

The USO Baumholder team delivers goodies to PCSing families.

Safely Delivering Food Programming to Military Families Around the World

In New York state, where the most coronavirus cases in the United States are currently located, the USO is still finding ways to support our military.

While their physical doors may be temporarily closed, USO Fort Drum in upstate New York has instituted “Sack Lunch to Go” every Tuesday and Thursday, where active duty service members and their dependents can swing by the outside of the center and pick up a pre-packaged meal.

In South Korea, USO Humphreys hosted a “Mobile Meals” event in support of military families who have limited access to off-post facilities, as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions. Staff and volunteers delivered freshly prepared meals of spaghetti with meat sauce, salad and corn to military families living on the base. Children also received fun snack bags filled with treats.

Across South Korea at the U.S. Army Garrison Daegu, where USO Camp Walker is located, many military families are unable to head to the center or are simply choosing to practice social distancing and stay home.

So, the USO team decided to bring a bit of tasty goodness to them and headed to one of the bases’ housing towers to serve up free chili dogs, chips and drinks outside.

The USO Camp Walker Team has also been keeping up with one of the location’s most-requested programs: Operation Birthday Cake. On March 13, the team dropped off a surprise birthday cake to Army Pvt. 1st Class Justin Dement, sent on behalf of his family.

In challenging times, things like birthday celebrations could easily be forgotten – but that’s exactly why the USO exists. To ensure that, even in stressful, global crises, our men and women in uniform are still remembered and know that we always have their back. Or in this case, their stomachs.

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As the COVID-19 outbreak is evolving, the USO has pivoted resources across the entire global enterprise in an approach that helps care for military members and their families.

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