Free School Meals Program Extended to Students on US Military Bases Overseas

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Carrots, rice, pasta and chicken are what’s for lunch at Vogelweh, Germany.
Carrots, rice, pasta and chicken are what's for lunch, Sept. 17, 2013, Vogelweh, Germany. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Hailey Haux)

Students at most overseas Department of Defense Education Activity schools will receive free meals for the rest of the school year, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service said Monday.

The Department of Agriculture, which subsidizes the meals, said they will help to ensure that children "have access to nutritious food as the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic."

The program, under which free school meals were provided to students at U.S. schools in the summer and through the fall, was extended to overseas military schools after the USDA granted a waiver this month, DODEA officials said.

The program also was extended through June 30 next year, said AAFES' senior enlisted adviser, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Osby. It had been due to expire in December.

The USDA said the extension was made possible by "language in the continuing resolution" to keep the government funded, which President Donald Trump signed Oct. 1.

"This is great news for families who may be experiencing financial hardships during this pandemic," said Tech Sgt. Robert Harris, of the 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, in AAFES's statement. "I believe it's something that will help give peace of mind."

Overseas, free meals will be available beginning Nov. 2 at grab-and-go locations and schools operated by the Defense Department School Food Authorities, which includes AAFES, the Navy Exchange and Marine Corps Community Services, AAFES said in a statement.

A student is required to have a DODEA student ID number and a meal account through one of the school food authorities to be able to benefit from the free meals. Accounts can be created at AAFES customer service counters.

Parents of students at overseas DOD schools who paid for their children's meals in the fall will be refunded for meals purchased from August through October, AAFES said.

But the cost of adult meals, second meals, a la carte items or additional entrees purchased during that time will not be refunded, it said.

DODEA students in community schools in Garmisch, Germany; Sevilla, Spain; and Kleine Brogel, Netherlands; are not eligible for the free meals, as their schools are not served by a DOD school food authority, said DODEA-Europe spokesman Stephen Smith.

Students at U.S. schools will continue to get free meals, and the program also will be available to students at Defense Department schools in Asia.

"I was thrilled and excited to hear about the free lunches for my daughters," said Master Sgt. Brando O. Perez, of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 36, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, in the AAFES statement. "This will not only help us financially, but will help so many families who are stationed in Okinawa during the COVID-19 pandemic."

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