MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- In the blazing hot sun of the Middle East, on the cold steel of a ship underway and anywhere else service members may deploy, something as simple as a hot cup of coffee can lift their spirits and get them through the day. In this way, a free cup of coffee reminds service members they are not forgotten.
Holy Joe’s Café delivered thousands of boxes of coffee to several chaplains representing individual units aboard the Combat Center, Aug. 21. The organization is an all-volunteer outreach from the first congregational church based out of Wallingford, Conn.
“They supply free coffee to military bases throughout the United States and around the globe,” said Lt. Cmdr. Dennis Wheeler, chaplain, “My main job this year, as a coordinator, is to receive a truckload of ground coffee and Keurig cups to distribute.”
After all the contents of the truck were unloaded by Marines volunteering from the Marine Corps Communication Electronics School, the 54 pallets of coffee amounted to more than 4,600 boxes.
“I feel absolutely grateful I get to contribute to a good cause,” said Pfc. Jaylyn Barnett, student, MCCES. “I know if someone is deployed and they receive something from people who are thinking about them, it makes them feel good. I feel great being able to help in this way.”
The organization began in 2006 at Sapher Air Force base, Baghdad, with a chaplain who created what seemed like an oasis in the desert. Between two buildings, then Lt. Col. Timothy Sturgill mounted a wooden roof creating a coffee stop. He then bought all the coffee he could and began running five 100-cup coffee urns to give free coffee to deployed service members and anyone else who wanted to stop in for a “cup of Joe.”
After all the coffee was off-loaded, the pallets were distributed amongst the base chaplains with extra pallets being given to units preparing for deployment.
“It’s heart-warming to see the teamwork that is here at Twentynine Palms,” Wheeler said. “Seeing the units coming together and assisting in a project like this is great. This coffee will go to each of the unit chaplains to administer as a facilitation tool in reaching out to service members, and we hope it lifts their spirits wherever they may be.”
Back in Connecticut, the ministry began getting requests from more chaplains deployed overseas for coffee since there was none left. This led to a call to Green Mountain Coffee, which made an initial donation of 20 boxes to the church. After a growth in popularity, Green Mountain began donating larger amounts and the positive impact began drawing requests from chaplains in Iraq, Kuwait and ultimately Afghanistan in 2008.
“Holy Joe’s is the conduit for chaplains who set up an oasis, not in size but in purpose. It’s a taste of home through coffee, which is the most important place for people when they’re in the midst of havoc,” said Thomas Jastermsky, founder, Holy Joe’s Café.
Since 2006, Holy Joe’s Café has partnered with more than 1,500 chaplains across the globe with distribution and transportation companies such as Fed Ex and Conway Freight have assisted in transporting the coffee.
As the organization has grown in notoriety and popularity, so have contributions with donations of ground coffee now coming from churches across the country. Ultimately, Holy Joe’s Café is a volunteer organization that wants to remind service members in garrison and overseas they are not alone.
“Coffee keeps them going and it reminds them that they’re not forgotten over here in the states,” Jastermsky said. “It’s all for free and we’re all volunteers. We respect and have a strong appreciation for the military and we want to get our coffee wherever they may go.”