Junior Indians lay down a successful sacrifice for American troops
840 bags of jerky donated to soldiers overseas
The Menomonee Falls Junior Indians' baseball program teaches fourth through eighth graders the basics of the sport, makes them look at hard one-hop grounders or high-and-tight fastballs as routine things to be endured on the path to victory.
They now also know that their ability to enjoy baseball is something bought and paid with a price higher than just the usual dust and sweat. It is part of the freedom we enjoy in America and that is purchased with things like blood and pain and loneliness. Things that soldiers stationed in difficult places like Afghanistan or Iraq endure every day.
That's where the worn shoe leather and salesmanship of the Junior Indians, the diligence of program supporter Mark Stiglitz, the grand military support network that is Operation Gratitude and 840 bags of 3.25-ounce Pemmican Mesquite Beef Jerky come into play.
Fundraiser for this year
"We do a fundraiser every year," said Junior Indians board member and coach Dave Weber, "and we've sold beef jerky before, but this year we included an offer people could buy it for themselves or they could offer to send it over to the troops (as part of Operation Gratitude)."
Obviously, a lot of people took the Junior Indians up on that latter idea.
Operation Gratitude is a national program that was founded nine years ago by Carolyn Blashek to provide for the troops overseas, their families left behind and wounded vets recuperating in hospitals. It provides care packages of food, toiletries, sundries and whatever else that's needed (or simply wanted) by those who are sacrificing so much.
It's an organization that numbers in the tens of thousands and it is volunteer in nature with one common goal, as Blashek wrote in an editorial in Operation Gratitude's catalog of items that people could sponsor:
"To put a smile on your face and say 'Thank you.' "
Weber and the rest of the board of directors of the Junior Indians were appropriately impressed with how seriously the players, who were responsible for the selling, took to their mission.
"The older kids really got what was going on with this," Weber said. "They could tell someone 'If you don't want to buy one for us, would like to get one for the troops?' "
Program supporter helps
The Pemmican came from Stiglitz's company Marfood USA. Stiglitz's son Scott was a top-notch infielder for Weber when Weber was head coach of the Menomonee Falls varsity baseball team and he also had a successful career while at Carroll College (now University) in Waukesha.
Weber calls Mark Stiglitz "A good friend of the Junior Indian program."
Stiglitz vastly undersold his part in the endeavor. It was he who thought that the Junior Indians program could actually sell more, if there was a donation quotient involved.
"I was just accommodating the young people who wanted to run the fundraiser," he sad. "They were the ones who sold it. I just suggested a different way of reaching potential customers.
"And in the long run, who wouldn't want to donate to the troops?"
Not many actually. The jerky sold for about $5 a bag.
It turns out that jerky-related products are the No. 1 most desired food product by the troops, Stiglitz said, because it keeps virtually forever without any refrigeration (at least 18 months).
Stiglitz then packaged it and sent the 840 bags to Operation Gratitude late last year where it was re-packaged and shipped to needed areas.
On Dec. 31, Dan Paule of the Junior Indians received a letter of thanks from Blashek. It included hearty notes of gratitude from not only her, but also testimonial notes from former overseas commander General David H. Petraeus as well as an unnamed first lieutenant stationed overseas.
"The care package you sent brought tears to my eyes," wrote the first lieutenant. "Not only did it have wonderful goodies, but it had the spirit of America in it. It had pride and hope in it."
For Stiglitz and Weber, that's reward enough.
"Baseball is one of those things that we love," said Stiglitz, "… but this is also a good lesson for the kids. Not only are they helping their team, but they're also helping people who don't have anything to do with the team."
To find out more about Operation Gratitude, go to www.OperationGratitude.com.
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