May 7, 2020 Torii Station, OKINAWA, Japan. USO Okinawa centers continue to navigate the current global pandemic through innovative programming while fulfilling the mission of connecting service members to family, home, and country. Every year USO centers all over the world come together in early May to host festive celebrations for Cinco De Mayo. When U.S. Army Garrison Okinawa expressed a need to boost morale and feed 300 single soldiers on Torii Station, USO Kadena in partnership with the Gary Sinise Foundation immediately jumped into action.
The event offered burritos, tacos, refreshments, music, and smiles to the troops on Torii Station. With a general order prohibiting off-base take out and the remote Army installation having fewer dining options, these service members were looking for a change in their daily meals.
Showcasing and supporting the efforts of service members is the everyday call to action that the USO continues to answer during this crisis. To celebrate Cinco De Mayo, USO centers on Camp Foster, Camp Hansen and Kadena Air Base provided support and served over 2000 tacos and burritos to our nation’s defenders.
“The support they (soldiers) have received from the USO during the COVID 19 pandemic,” COL Theodore White, 10th SG Commander, said. “has been very helpful for morale boosters and has solidified the relationship with soldiers on Okinawa.”
USO Okinawa, through the recent support of the Gary Sinise Foundation, is offering additional mobile meals to service members on the island. The Gary Sinise Foundation team said, “they believe that serving heroes is more than just providing a meal. Partnering with USO Okinawa gives the organization the opportunity to form connections and strengthen communities. It’s a simple way to remind our heroes that America cares and is grateful for their service. We’re showing our gratitude face- to-face with a plate and a smile.”
Long time, local USO supporter and former classmate of Gary Sinise, Charles (Chip) Steitz facilitated the new engagement between The Gary Sinise Foundation and USO Okinawa.
“Thank you to the USO for putting this on,” Steitz said. “Gary is doing this all over the world, mostly in the states, but the Pacific is a new avenue for him to really help the service members and to recognize all their efforts.” “While we can never do enough to show our gratitude to our nation’s defenders, we can always do a little more.” Gary Sinise said. “We must do all we can to extend our hand in times of need to those who willingly sacrifice each day to provide that freedom and security.”
The Gary Sinise Foundation designed their monthly meals program for large groups of service members. Considering the COVID19 pandemic and spacing requirements, the foundation allowed the USO to conduct the meals through multiple events each month. This change allows USO to spread happiness through food to 1000 service members all over Okinawa.
“I am truly grateful that USO Okinawa was able to partner with the Gary Sinise Foundation”, Mr. Phil VanEtten, USO Okinawa Area Director, said. “The foundation does this worldwide, but it is the first time it has come to Okinawa.”
The Gary Sinise Foundation has served nearly 200, 000 meals to our nation’s defenders across the world. This new partnership with USO Okinawa aids the foundation in rapidly distributing meals to those who need it most during the COVID-19 pandemic.
These Cinco De Mayo festivities are just a few of the over 3000 programs conducted through the six local centers on island. These efforts combined with morale snack attacks, virtual programming, celebrity engagements, Operation Birthday Cake, and fitness challenges are just a few of the examples of the adaptability of USO centers in Okinawa during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To learn more about USO Okinawa, please visit www.Okinawa.USO.org for more information.
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