Published: June 30, 2022
In the military world, summer is the unofficial “PCS season.” Each year, about 600,000 military families relocate through a permanent change of station (PCS) or transition out of the military. Upon arriving at a new duty station, one of the first stops for a military family is the grocery store to replenish the food items that had to be discarded before their move. That initial grocery store visit is one of the expensive out-of-pocket costs that families face when moving. However, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) can help ease that strain given that it’s so much more than just another grocery store.
“DeCA is a Congressionally-mandated, appropriated-funded agency,” explains Sgt. Maj. Michael Saucedo, Senior Enlisted Advisor of the Defense Commissary Agency (pictured below, right). “That means the taxpayer dollar pays our operational costs. DeCA is a zero-profit organization unlike grocery stores outside our gates.”
DeCA oversees the operation of a worldwide chain of 236 military commissaries that provide groceries to active-duty military families, retirees, and their families, as well as DeCA employees and other authorized patrons. As Sgt. Maj. Saucedo explains, DeCA is a core military family support element and a valued part of military pay and benefits that contribute directly to family readiness, enhance quality of life, and help recruit and retain those who serve.
“We go beyond the concept of being a grocery store,” shares Sgt. Maj. Saucedo. “DeCA’s value proposition includes delivering that savings, clean and safe stores, nutritious food options, a taste of home to overseas patrons, excellent customer service, and a ‘strategic insurance policy’ to provide critical needs to patrons in disasters, like pandemics or hurricanes. This is where commissaries separate from commercial stores.”
Unfortunately, a few misconceptions about DeCA discourage people from fully utilizing its benefits. One of the misconceptions is that it’s just for married troops living in housing areas. In actuality, the commissary is for all military service members, including unmarried service members, and service members and families who live off installation.
Veterans are also eligible to use DeCA. The National Defense Authorization Act regulates DeCA, and in recent years, eligibility expanded to include Veterans with any service-connected disability, Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, and individuals approved and designated as the primary family caregivers of eligible Veterans under the Department of Veterans Affairs Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (Defense Commissary Agency, n.d.). For more information about eligibility, visit this page.
Highlighting the benefits
DeCA has a vision to be THE grocery provider of choice for its eligible patrons, delivering vital benefits exclusively to the military community and their families. These benefits include:
- A super informative website with current promotions, contests, coupons, healthy living resources, dietitian-crafted recipes, curated healthy-living resources, reward card information, a 30-day meal planner, and SNAP and WIC information.
- The option to shop online with CLICK2GO. Review the recipes, make a meal plan, visit CLICK2GO, place a grocery order, and use curbside pickup. These resources make meal planning and grocery shopping super easy!
- The easy-to-use Rewards Card, which can be picked up at any location and used to view and clip digital coupons.
- Sidewalk sales, where patrons can stock up on their favorite items.
- Store brands that help patrons save money without sacrificing quality.
Don’t worry about benefits like Click2GO disappearing. Sgt. Maj. Saucedo says that they are “all in.” He went on to share: “We are working [on] what we refer to as our three-legged stool of convenience: 1) online shopping – curbside pickup or Commissary CLICK2GO, 2) online payment, and 3) what we are piloting now at eight locations, delivery.”
DeCA’s response to food insecurity
Food insecurity is a real struggle for many military- and Veteran-connected families. To address it, Sgt. Maj. Saucedo explains, “DeCA is expanding efforts to educate and inform eligible patrons on the importance of the commissary benefit and how it contributes to military family quality of life — the fundamental reason we exist.”
Beyond DeCA delivering savings to military families, the mission of the commissary benefit is to “help promote food security for patrons by delivering savings on healthy and fresh food around the globe.”
“The commissary benefit portion of DOD’s Economic Security Toolkit is spotlighted on the DeCA website, specifically on our “We’re Stronger Together” page, which links military members to patron savings, and nutritious options and food insecurity resources, including information on United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program; Department of Social Services tangential programs; and features key commissary resources to assist with expanding the food dollar,” Sgt. Maj. Saucedo shares.
DeCA is also working closely with the military to increase awareness of the commissary benefit to troops earlier in their careers – when the benefit means the most. By educating tens of thousands of new recruits yearly in basic training and partnering with single service member programs, DeCA connects with young service members from the start of their careers about this benefit to which they are entitled. Also, DeCA has increased access to quick, on-the-go, ready-to-eat economical meal options via the deli and through dietitian-approved fueling stations.
Along with these educational and nutritional benefits, nearly 175 stores contribute to an average of 4.4 million pounds of donations annually to nearly 200 food banks throughout the United States. Rather than ending up in a landfill, DeCA reduces food waste and contributes to feeding the hungry. Each year, DeCA runs the Feds Feed Families (FFF) program for the Department of Defense, in conjunction with the USDA, to collect donations from June 1st through August 31st. In 2021, the DOD contributed approximately 3.7 million pounds of food to food banks and pantries.
A cornerstone of the military community
“Anyone who has ever shopped in our stores knows that the commissary is one of the cornerstones of the military community,” Sgt. Maj. Sausedo says. “It’s a place where Veterans meet; where younger service members can see and appreciate the generation that served before them.”
DeCA provides significant savings to military families: about $20-$25 on every $100 of groceries. Further, nearly 65% of DeCA’s workforce is connected to the community they serve and consists of active-duty members, Reservists, retirees, disabled Veterans, and family members. To learn more about careers with DeCA, visit here.
“No other grocery store can claim to be an integral part of the military community like the commissary,” Sgt. Maj. Saucedo says. “We deliver on our promise, consistently, every day, everywhere, and in everything we do to pay tribute to our patrons and deliver to them a world-class commissary benefit.”
Your chance to contribute
Personally, since moving to Fort Belvoir, I have used CLICK2GO, dietitian-approved recipes and meal plans, and the convenience of delivery services. Not only do I feel that I’m saving time by meal planning, but I’m also saving time in that I don’t have to wander the grocery store aisles wondering what else I need. The delivery option, which is currently being tested June 1st through August 30th at various military installations, is comparable to off-installation grocery stores, but the delivery fee is much lower than other grocery delivery options. Also, my groceries have been delivered in full, by friendly delivery contractors, within a couple of hours of placing my order.
If you would like to share your feedback on using DeCA, you have an opportunity to do so through Blue Star Families’ 2022 Military Family Lifestyle Survey. This anonymous survey provides important information about military and Veteran life, and it’s still open for responses through July 10th. Participate in the survey here!
Thank you to Sgt. Maj. Saucedo for sharing so much great information about the benefits of the Defense Commissary Agency. If you have any questions, please reach out to me at [email protected], and let Nourish the Service know how we can help you!