The weather was typical for a July evening in the Washington, D.C., Metro Area, but the event was a rare treat for military families isolated during the worst pandemic to hit the United States in 100 years.
Car after car pulled in for a much-anticipated gathering during the COVID-19 outbreak: a drive-in movie, and sandwiches and snacks courtesy of the Hormel® Natural Choice® brand. As families set up makeshift beds in their tailgates, there was time simply to toss around a football, connect with family and friends, meet neighbors and be together in a safe and family-friendly manner.
“It’s so important just to have that break to come together in a socially distanced way … to have something to look forward to,” said Sam Hovland, brand manager for the Hormel® Natural Choice® brand. She spoke from the headquarters of Hormel Foods in Austin, Minn., opting to stay back to help curb the spread of the coronavirus that has been sweeping the nation. She and other members of the team worked remotely with staff at USO-Metro, one of the largest chapters of the United Service Organizations, to keep the brand’s Good Feeds Us All Tour going.
The tour, an extension of the brand’s 2019 advertising campaign of the same name, had been making its way across the United States, working to put a spotlight on people and organizations that embody the brand’s spirit. When the pandemic forced closures and brought travel to a halt, the tour took a hiatus. Then came the idea for the USO event at Marine Corps Base Quantico, an installation of approximately 6,000 Marines near the U.S. capital.
“We are continuing our brand legacy of doing a little bit more, a little bit better and shining a light on those in our communities who are also doing a little bit more and a little bit better,” said Beth Fehrenbacher, senior brand manager for the Hormel® Natural Choice® brand.
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A parking lot and a giant 20-foot inflatable screen set the stage for the event. According to Lisa Marie Riggins, executive director of USO-Metro, it was one of the first times in months that Quantico families were able to see others with whom they share a bond.
“We’re helping military families, getting them out to enjoy some food and entertainment. To me, that’s powerful,” Riggins said.
…it’s back to humanity. Back to just a tiny bit of togetherness.Courtney Reed
Courtney Reed was one of them. Her husband, Jeremy, is a Lt. Colonel in the Army, and they have a 6-year-old daughter named Josie. A military spouse, mother and USO volunteer, Courtney Reed hadn’t realized how much sheltering in place was wearing on her until her family pulled in to the event.
“You don’t even realize what you’re missing,” she said. “Until there’s an opportunity. We can do this safely. We can get out of these four walls. And then you leave it [saying,] ‘We’re human!’ And it’s back to humanity. Back to just a tiny bit of togetherness,” she said.
Meet The USO
Bringing people together and fostering a sense of community are among the main objectives of the nearly 80-year-old organization that traces its roots to 1941 and to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s call for the founding of a group to lift the spirits of American troops.
That simple, well-meaning request was a stroke of brilliance. It gave way to the USO, and more to the point, to countless gestures and initiatives through the years, ranging from free cups of coffee in airports and delivery of written messages to soldiers, to overseas shows headlined by A-list celebrities; Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe and the Andrews Sisters among them. To this day, those black-and-white images live on in a nation’s collective memory.
Col. William C. Bentley III, commander of the Quantico base, appreciates the USO as much for what it does for those on his base as for what it has given to him and his family. Career military, he’s been deployed at least eight times in his nearly 30 years of service, and the USO has been there for him and his family during many of his tours. He recalled how when he and his wife were first married and separated for several years, the USO would get written notes called “USO grams” back and forth between them. And then there were the memorable live shows, one of which starred Gayle Sayers, the legendary pro football running back.
Large or small, the programs work to make servicemen and -women feel connected, he said, adding the observation that even as the USO adapts to and adopts new technology, it hasn’t changed its objective in the least.
Neither has the team behind the Hormel® Natural Choice® brand. For them, the mere act of sharing a sandwich has the power to change lives.
“Connecting over food is something that’s been done since the beginning of time. As lives get to be more hectic, and there isn’t always that time to connect with others over a meal, the Natural Choice® brand really wants to be the natural solution to those connections and then also to community,” Hovland said.
“When we say, ‘Good Feeds Us All,’ it not only feeds us functionally … it feeds our spirit, feeds our desire to help those around us.”