Exchange’s grab-and-go school meals nourish military community’s spirit during COVID-19 pandemic

With schools operating virtually across Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service began providing grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches at participating schools March 23.

The Exchange, which has been operating the overseas school meal program for military students since the late 1970s, introduced the grab-and-go meal option to help military families while their children are learning at home.

“The Exchange team is mission essential, and we are honored to serve military families during this worldwide pandemic,” said Col. Scott McFarland, the Exchange’s Europe/Southwest Asia commander. “With the grab-and-go option, parents can focus on their core missions, while the Exchange ensures the students receive hot, healthy meals prepared in a clean and safe environment.”

During its first week of the grab-and-go program, the Exchange served more than 3,000 meals. Sonja Gates, school meal program manager for the Kaiserslautern Military Community district, hopes the number will increase as more families become aware of the program.

“This program is for all military children,” Gates said. “We prepare these meals fresh daily, and always in accordance with USDA standards.”

Ramstein Intermediate School Principal Caryn Currie said the Exchange is bringing relief to parents who are now having to homeschool their children.

“This is an excellent offering for our students,” Currie said. “Students can stay focused on the school work we have prepared for them.”

Julia Wilson, a military wife and mother, said she is grateful for the meals.

“I was surprised because it was more than I expected,” Wilson said. “I have three children, so this has been great.”

For military spouse and mother of three children, Jovonna Nelson, the grab-and-go meals are a stress-relief.

“With the kids having to be homeschooled right now, this relieves the burden of having to cook multiple times a day,” Nelson said. “The kids are excited and enjoy eating the school’s lunches.”

Parents who wish to participate in the grab-and-go program can send an email to participating schools. Parents can then stop by one of the centralized locations for the grab-and-go meals, Monday through Friday, between 8:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

The following schools are participating in the grab-and-go meal program:

  • Baumholder Smith Elementary School
  • Landstuhl Elementary School
  • Ramstein Elementary School
  • Vogelweh Elementary School
  • Kaiserslautern High School
  • Sembach Elementary School
  • Ansbach Elementary School
  • Stuttgart High School
  • Patch Middle School
  • Robinson Barracks Elementary School
  • Netzarberg Elementary and Middle School
  • Vilseck Elementary School
  • Vilseck High School
  • Hohenfels Elementary School
  • Hohenfels High School
  • Aukum Elementary School
  • Lakenheath Liberty Elementary School
  • Feltwell Elementary School

“The Exchange is dedicated to providing the best service possible,” McFarland said. “As we all work through these challenging times, it’s important for our military communities to understand that we care about their health and well-being.”