HEIDELBERG, Germany -- Spc. Robert Sample began his Cheap Eats journey in September and hasn't missed a night since because, he says, he likes the environment where friends can come together and chat. Then there's the free food.

Cheap Eats is a monthly gathering of family readiness group volunteers, Soldiers from the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program, and senior unit leaders from the U.S. Army Europe and 7th Army Special Troops Battalion, where volunteers cook food, and everyone shares recipes and gets to know one another.

"We've built relationships," said Lana Barshinger, USAREUR and 7th Army STB family readiness support assistant.

The FRG sponsors the evenings, which take place the last Thursday of each month in the STB barracks, on Patton Barracks in Heidelberg. To this point, Barshinger said the event has been financially supported solely by volunteer efforts, and no FRG or unit funds have been spent, with the exception of a unit purchase of some fest tables.

"People will stop by and donate items, even if they don't eat," she said.

The format is easy, Barshinger explained - people begin coming in around 6 p.m. and some start cooking, others begin snacking, and around 7 p.m. people explain what they have cooked, and then everyone eats.

The meals take place in the barracks hallway, with everyone sitting at fest tables, and Barshinger sends out all the recipes after the evening.

But, the evenings are not so much about the food. It's a chance to break through the officer to lower enlisted barriers, said Sample, who works in the STB personnel office.

The relaxed environment, "allows for us to speak with our chain of command and work through some issues," said Spc. Meagan Noles, Heidelberg BOSS president.

Noles said she has been coming to Cheap Eats since its inception in September 2007, and says she has watched the event grow from 10-15 people to crowds up to 60 people - and not just STB Soldiers and families.

She stressed that the evening is for everyone to enjoy time together, and Soldiers from other units are encouraged to join the fun, or export it to their own unit.

One unit that has successfully transplanted the program is the Medical Department Activity Heidelberg Headquarters Company.

Staff Sgt. Kenneth Bullivant said their monthly Cheap Eats has been going on for about six months and often has 15 to 20 people attend.

The HMEDDAC gatherings are on a varied schedule, and the unit's BOSS Soldiers spread the news by word of mouth, Bullivant said.

Barshinger said the Soldiers' participation her unit's program is paramount.

"We need to have the involvement and leadership of the Soldiers in the barracks or it's worthless," she said in an e-mail.

She mentioned a core group of about 10-15 Soldiers who have taken ownership and help plan the themes, which range from Super Bowl snacks to breakfast or barbecue.

The end result, according to a Cheap Eats flyer is a "large and slightly chaotic family meal."

(Editor's Note: Jason Austin writes for the USAG Baden-Wuerttemberg newspaper, the Herald Post.)

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16