Feeding Families
Joe Malen (right) and Leslie Harvey, both members of the Southern Lights Chapel congregation and Knights of Columbus, are regular volunteers at the F.O.O.D. program. “We want to give the Families a break from the normal routine… getting them out of their houses and into a neutral place for a little relaxation, food, fellowship and fun,” Malen said. Harvey said “I thought what better way to bring folks together, especially when spouses are deployed.”

FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - “If you have someone deployed, this is where you need to be,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Dwight Broedel, family life chaplain and interim garrison chaplain about the F.O.O.D program, sponsored by the Fort Wainwright Southern Lights congregation.

The F.O.O.D. (Feeding Our Outstanding Dependents) program is a non-denominational program designed to give the spouses of deployed Soldiers a break for a couple of days each month. Volunteers cook, serve and clean up after dinner the first and third Sundays of every month at the Southern Lights Chapel; all Families of deployed Soldiers have to do is show up.

The F.O.O.D. program came about five or six years ago when the Catholic parish was brainstorming ideas about how they could help the families left behind during that deployment, said Bill Chrisman, a member of the Southern Lights congregation who chairs the program. Several ideas were discussed, but the one that had the ‘biggest bang for the buck’ was the F.O.O.D. program.

Jodi Bechtel is the wife of Sgt. William Bechtel, C Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment (Air Ambulance), 16th Combat Aviation Brigade. He is currently deployed to Afghanistan. She found out about the program from a family readiness group email.

“You have the responsibility of everything 24/7 and it is nice not to have to make a decision,” she said. “No dishes, it helps. Now I can go home, don’t have to clean up my kitchen, just relax.”

“It is designed for Families to sit together with friends and acquaintances and share a meal, some conversation, some jokes and encourage one another during the deployments.” Chrisman said. Very few just come to eat and leave, but that's okay too. There are also take-out containers for people who just want the meal to take home, he said.

Joe Malen, a Fort Wainwright civilian employee with the Department of Public Works Environmental Office and member of the Southern Lights congregation, has been working with the program since it began.

He said “we want to give the Families a break from the normal "routine" with the expressed purpose for getting them out of their houses and into a neutral place for a little relaxation, food, fellowship and fun.”

“This is not too hard when the weather outside is warm and sunny. However it becomes very important ‘when the weather outside is frightful.’ Loneliness, compounded by the cold weather, snow, ice and darkness are the biggest problems we are trying to help Families overcome during the more difficult times,” he said.

Jessica Hellman, wife of Sgt. Ryan Hellman, 5th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, was there with her daughters. Sgt. Hellman is currently on his fourth deployment, this time to Afghanistan. She had attended once before after finding out about it on a Facebook page.

“I think it is great, not having to cook,” she said. “It is nice to be with other people who are going through what you’re going through.

“I think it is really good to see people volunteering their time and efforts to feed all of us. You don’t see that very often, not outside military life,” Hellman said.

Anyone whose sponsor is deployed is welcome to attend and no reservations are necessary. Dinner is served at 5 p.m. the first and third Sunday of the month downstairs in the Southern Lights Chapel.

Extra hands are always needed, with the local Knights of Columbus being the primary source for help in the current deployment. Contact the Southern Lights Chapel for more information.

“Isolation and loneliness is one of the biggest chronic problems Families face at Fort Wainwright,” Broedel said. “The F.O.O.D Program directly attacks and defeats the effects of deployment fatigue.”

“I can say without hesitation that it is this sort of unqualified love of thy neighbor that makes this place so awesome and responsive to satisfying real needs. I am truly proud of my Southern Lights congregation and rejoice with them.”

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 00:00