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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Schoolchildren at U.S. military schools on Okinawa soon will have the option to buy meals without money or pre-purchased coupons. A computerized meal payment program is to begin April 14 at all Department of Defense Dependents Schools on the island.

DODDS and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service began testing the system last April at schools in Misawa Air Base, Japan, and Mannheim, Germany. All DODDS schools are to come on line with the system later this year, said Master Sgt. Howard Smith, an AAFES spokesman.

“One benefit of the program is the child won’t have the responsibility of carrying lunch money or meal coupons to school,” said Smith.

Parents who choose the new system must establish meal accounts through AAFES, which provides more than 8,500 meals each day at 32 schools in the Pacific region. Parents must make account transactions at local base exchange cash cages or at their children’s respective schools, Smith said.

Under the new system, students punch in four-digit personal identification numbers to access their accounts and make debits each time the use the system. It allows a child to purchase only one set menu per day, Smith said, noting that other children will not be able to use a child’s PIN to get a free meal.

The computerized format gives parents oversight of their children’s accounts, spending and eating habits, said Smith. It also keeps tabs on students’ food allergies, he added. When students access their accounts, personal information along with their pictures pop up on a computer screen, allowing meal program workers to visually identify students and ensure they don’t eat foods harmful to their health.

If parents don’t claim their child’s account balance at the end of the school year, Smith said, it will carry over to the child’s account for the next year.

Smith said parents still have the option to buy meal coupons for their children and may continue to use any 2002-03 coupons until the end of the school year.

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