KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN (05/25/2011) -- Thanks to Green Mountain Coffee and FedEx, the Holy Joe's Cafe: Coffee for Our Troops program is stronger than ever. In March, the Vermont-based coffee maker donated over 17,000 pounds of coffee to the program, which offers coffee and a place for deployed troops to relax and talk with military chaplains. How does one get almost nine tons of coffee to Afghanistan? Call FedEx.
Tom Jastermsky, a deacon for First Congregational Church UCC of Wallingford where Holy Joe's began in 2006, and Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Sholtes, a UCC chaplain in the United States Navy, were excited about Green Mountain's donation. Both struggled with the problem of getting 40 pallets of K-cups from Wallingford, Connecticut, to Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan. Military transportation was complicated and did not look feasible. That is when FedEx stepped in and offered to fly the cargo to Kabul and truck it to Kandahar, an effort equal to nearly a half million dollars in logistics according to Jastermsky.
"We thought it would take months to get this much coffee shipped," said Jastermsky. "FedEx said they could get it there by Memorial Day."
Lt. Cmdr. Sholtes signed for the delivery in Kandahar and arranged for the coffee and several Keurig coffee machines to be distributed to chaplains throughout Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait. Sholtes is based at NATO Role 3 Trauma Hospital in Kandahar. He says the benefit of the Holy Joe's program is tremendous because it provides a comfortable atmosphere where war-fighting troops can relax with a cup of coffee and talk openly with their chaplains.
"While the caffeine helps them to get through the day, the advice and counseling they receive will have a long lasting impact on their lives. Many soldiers will have a chance to talk undisturbed to a chaplain because of the coffee house setting. The impact on our troops is truly immeasurable!"
Tom Jastermsky has worked with deployed chaplains for five years. He says the chaplains are able to reach more troops through the coffee house setting. Chaplains do not follow troops into battle or go on patrol. Troops often have to seek out a chaplain in order to talk, and many are unlikely to do that despite being far away from their families and regular means of support. The Holy Joe's Cafe allows chaplains to operate in a community setting and provide a ministry of presence.
"Holy Joe's is a way to talk, vent, and get information on programs for troops," says Jastermsky. "People get to laugh and decompress. The atmosphere helps open casual conversation that can lead to better support."
This Memorial Day, along with military personal everywhere, we honor more than 100,000 US troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait who work around the clock daily, with no days off, protecting local civilians, fellow soldiers, and their own lives, in an effort to make all of us safer. Coffee may seem like a small luxury at best, but through the efforts of Tom Jastermsky and First Congregational Church of Wallingford, Lt. Cmdr. Sholtes, Green Mountain Coffee and FedEx, Holy Joe's offers compassion in a cup.
Drew Page is Media Assistant for the Connecticut Conference, United Church of Christ.