Aviano Exchange Continues to Serve Airmen, Families During COVID-19 Pandemic
When the Italian government imposed a nationwide shutdown on March 9, Aviano Air Base followed suit—and with the restrictions prompting the closure of Exchange restaurants, dining options were limited for the Airmen who were now unable to leave the base.
“A lot of Airmen and families were stuck in a dorm or base lodging without the ability to cook a good meal,” said Aviano Air Base Express Manager Stefania Filanti. “You could still go to the grocery store and pharmacy, so they might have been eating frozen items or chips but not much else. There’s a pizza place just outside the gate, but they can’t come on base to deliver.”
The nature of the restrictions, which have since been lifted, meant Exchange restaurants couldn’t offer dine-in or take-out service. But they could offer delivery. Enter Hunt Brothers Pizza.
“We were already in regular contact with command, and one day the military asked, ‘Can you deliver pizza?’” said Italy Consolidated Exchange General Manager Jennifer Jordan. “Hunt Brothers is an Express grab-and-go brand, so we had to make sure we could do this from the brand standpoint and find out who would deliver it. But we got it done.”
The quickest way to launch the program was to enlist the help of the very same Airmen who were so excited to see food service return. With Airmen already working a one-week-on, one-week-off schedule, there was no shortage of volunteers who could deliver pizzas on their off-week.
“We brought the idea to command, and they didn’t even think twice,” Filanti said. “Everything we wanted to do to make this program happen, they supported.”
The program’s April 15 launch revealed significant demand, with phone calls starting to flood in days before the service officially started.
“The fact that these Airmen could get American pizza again was a huge boost in morale, especially with so many things having been taken away to stem the growth of the virus,” Jordan said.
Hunt Brothers isn’t the only Exchange facility at Aviano that found a way to continue serving troops despite the pandemic. With the Military Clothing store closed to the public, management devised a process through which the Command Chief could submit a list of uniform items needed by troops every Wednesday and then pick them up the following day.
“Until we were able to resume normal duty hours, this plan ensured our troops received any necessary equipment to maintain continued mission readiness and preparedness,” said Aviano Military Clothing Store Manager Patricia De Coste.
While the Military Clothing store remains closed, direct-run food facilities resumed normal operating hours after the restrictions were lifted on May 3. Both programs serve as a model for maintaining service to military communities despite extraordinary circumstances—and an important blueprint should restrictions resume.
“We did our part, the installation did theirs, and we made it work,” Filanti said. “We really wanted to give our valued customers a good feeling and help them out in their time of need. It seems small, but it meant so much to them.”