By Staff Sgt. Christopher McCulloughMarch 17, 2014
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - The USO Northwest Shali Center has been an important part of service members' lives at the base since the mid-1980s. They continue this long-lived legacy by hosting a monthly "No Dough" dinner where a unit on post is presented a meal for free.
Fifty lucky soldiers from 296th Brigade Support Battalion "Frontline," 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, were treated to their free meal March 11 at the Shali Center next to the McChord Field Passenger Terminal.
The program, which kicked off at Shali Center in January 2013, is put on by volunteers at the center before payday, "because that's usually when [soldiers] have 'no dough,'" joked Andrew Oczkewicz, the manager of the Shali Center.
The center rotates through units on post to ensure that everyone gets a chance at their free meal.
"We've gone full circle and we're back to 3rd Brigade and happy to do so," Oczkewicz said.
Oczkewicz relies on a team of volunteers to help put together the meals.
"Our volunteers are absolutely thrilled with this program; they get excited," Oczkewicz said. "There are some people that drive over an hour to get here just to help out. It's a highly dedicated team."
In addition to the meal, each soldier had the opportunity to win some swag during a raffle.
"The raffle is an additional something we do to add some fun to the night," Oczkewicz said.
Local businesses provide gifts for the raffle and one volunteer, Debbie Zeller, even made a blanket to give away to a lucky winner.
People like Zeller, who routinely volunteers at the center, are the reason the dinners are such a success, according to Oczkewicz.
"I've been here since November 2010 and I've done eight No Dough dinners," said Zeller. "I think it's fun having different units come in."
Another key to the dinners are sponsors who are vital to the program's success, Oczkewicz said. It is their contributions that ensure that the meals are provided at no cost to the soldiers.
"Each dinner is auctioned off at the USO Northwest Gala Auction held every October," Oczkewicz explained. "Attendees at the auction can bid to sponsor a No Dough dinner, which costs $800 a month. That money enables the USONW to pay for the meals."
The No Dough dinners are not all the Shali Center offers. According to their website, the "USONW Shali Center works closely with the base operations staff during troop deployments to distribute individual USO care packages to each and every military member deploying to combat zones through Joint Base Lewis-McChord."
Oczkewicz expects to continue this even as deployments slow down.
"The troops might not be going to Afghanistan, but I can guarantee you we'll be handling training deployments for the 3rd Brigade for a long time to come," he said.
The center also provides a troop lounge, Xbox, computers with free Internet and a deli-style breakfast, lunch and dinner for free. The staff and volunteers also work closely with many family readiness groups to provide assistance to military families and reach out to single soldiers through various programs.
For more information on how you can help the USONW support JBLM service members and their families, contact Andrew Oczkewicz at 360-789-2972.