The USO of North Carolina (USO-NC) in Jacksonville had a monthly Community Connections Dinner Monday. The events, formerly known as No Dough Dinners, are for active duty, reserve and National Guard service members and their families to have a night out and a nice meal among their compatriots.
“It’s down to a science,” said USO-NC Volunteer Coordinator Jeff Weller of the events.
Families get registered, are taken to their seats and then fed in the order in which they arrive. Volunteers assist with registration, seating and drinks and help some of the younger attendees stay occupied.
“I thought it would be fun to get out and get involved. I told them I wanted to work with the kids. … I really enjoy it,” said Shonna Scheuringer, who coordinated crafts for children. It was Scheuringer’s first official dinner with the USO.
Other volunteers included Staff Sgt. Luis Alfaro, who has been helping out the USO since 2015.
“I started helping out while I was in Okinawa, and it just felt natural to keep doing it here,” said Alfaro.
John Swett, a retired Navy serviceman, remembers being stationed in New York state and using the USO’s phone booths.
“We’d line up out the door at little places just like that one,” said Swett, referring to the booths still intact at the USO-NC Jacksonville location. The office is the oldest in operation, and Swett said he is proud to assist the community now.
Dave Philpott, who served more than 38 years in the Navy between active duty and reserve service, agrees.
“I’ve used USOs all over the world. War zones, home side, you name it,” said Philpott.
He now helps to get attendees settled in and fed. “We’ve had them up on stage before,” Philpott said of the attendance at events.
Attendees are known to be repeat customers.
“It’s nice getting out of the house and seeing new people,” Mele Kitiona said of the event. She attended with her children, Malachi and Morissa, and her husband, Staff Sgt. Mose Kitiona. It was their second dinner at the USO-NC in Jacksonville.
Annie Chivers, a retired Marine First Sgt., blessed the meal and handed out desserts throughout the night. She started volunteering with the USO in 1992, while still on active duty. She sees the events as more than a community coming together. She sees it as a family.
“The feeling of family is so important to everyone here,” Chivers said. “Family is important to me for so many reasons. It’s good to have that in a place like this.”
For more information about the USO-NC in Jacksonville visit https://northcarolina.uso.org/jacksonville