JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- First Coast military families know all about service to country, but some know with service comes sacrifice.
Navy wife Nicole Thomas, whose husband Ryan is stationed at NAS Mayport, knows how to keep the family of six on a budget, but with few extras.
"That doesn't happen often, but maybe once every six months and we go to the five dollar movies on Sunday," said Thomas from her home that is part of Navy housing.
Thomas said making ends meet on $1,300 every two weeks means waiting to save up to repair a car and cutting expenses wherever possible.
Christian Castro, who has eight years in the Navy along with his wife, Priscilla, are thankful they are stationed in Jacksonville, which has a more affordable cost of living than other Navy locations.
"When I transferred to San Diego or Virginia, where the cost of living's really high," said Castro from the kitchen of his home in Arlington.
The USO locally on Mayport Road is a destination for hundreds of people twice a month as Navy pay day approaches. "No Dough Dinners" as they are called because they are free are hosted by churches and civic groups. Earlier this month, Fletcher High's Interact Club served breakfast for dinner with students active in the community service project.
Angela Rivera just back from deployment brought his wife and six children to enjoy a meal at no expense.
"The way the economy is now days, it is pretty rough to get by. Any little thing to help. This is really great," said Rivera before sitting down with his family.
Military families also benefit from weekly nutritional snacks handed out every Friday by volunteers involved in "Blessings in a Backpack."
The national and local effort are looking for support and volunteers. More information can be found at www.blessingsinabackpack.org and www.jaxblessingsinabackpack.org.
Mayport Elementary is one a handful of local schools that are on the receiving end of the program that gives students of qualifying families a bag of nutritional goods like oatmeal, fruit and juice.
Linda Bass is the volunteer coordinator at Mayport Elementary and oversees a team that gathers at 8 a.m. to prepare the "backpacks" that are delivered to classrooms.
Bass said donations of money make it all possible. She says $80 ensures that one student for an entire school year will take home some extras for themselves and their families.
Mayport Elementary principal Yvonne Ferguson said the "backpack" is appreciated by children. As she noted, one student commented Friday is his favorite day because he looks forward to taking some extra healthy snacks home for the weekend.
Nicole Thomas said her son Alexander is a big fan of the backpack program.
The Navy wife says despite the struggles to serve sometimes, the military has many positives which includes an extended family.
"You make some close friends you keep forever no matter the distance. I love it," said Thomas.
While times are tough for some military families, Thomas is thankful for what the Navy does offer.
"He has a job, we have a roof over our heads. That's the most important thing."
First Coast News