The following article is written by Jen Sorensen, communications director for Iowa Select Farms. For 12 years, Iowa Select has been honoring Iowa’s troops by distributing pork products. In this article, Sorensen writes about how the project started and why Iowa Select is committed to continuing it. It’s appropriate to share this with readers on Independence Day. Look for an article on Friday about the Pork Care Package Program and the Deb and Jeff Hansen Foundation.
Oftentimes when we send out a news article or publication, we also share the story of why a program began, and how it has grown and progressed over the years. The effort to support members of our Armed Services many years ago began with humble beginnings. With the Foundation officially formed in 2006 and funding in place, Jeff and Deb wanted to show gratitude to military families for their sacrifice and service to our country. We naturally looked to delivering pork—hams, pork loins or ribs—to military personnel and began navigating our way through distribution channels.
We started by targeting Iowa National Guard members in our home communities and found our best champions to be the Family Readiness Coordinators who support the units. Unit size varies greatly, and we began making trips to nearby bases. It was 25 hams here, 100 loins there, all on Sunday afternoons after Soldiers were dismissed from drill. We took our truck to the Waterloo base to deliver to several units during their Christmas parties, made consecutive trips to the 132nd Air Fighter Wing in Des Moines and on many occasions headed down to Camp Dodge in Johnston with deliveries of pork loins.
We’ll never forget the day we received a thank you card from a mother of a Soldier. She had penned us a note the very evening we handed her son a ham as he walked out of the base in Waterloo. In the note, she explained that her son called her as soon as he climbed into his truck. He told her some nice pork producers had given him a ham and asked if he could bring it over to her house where she could help him prepare a meal. He also wondered if his older brother and his family could come. The mother continued to tell us how happy she was to have a reason to have her sons come over, as not just one, but both of them served in the National Guard.
Two things quickly became apparent after reading this one, very important thank you card. First, the panic set in when we realized the young men we had met that day may not know what to do with a big, bone-in ham. But more importantly—that food can bring families together in a very special way. We knew our hams and loins would eventually make their way to a mom, a wife or a father at the grill, and that those families would have a reason to gather and life would be good for an evening.
The more we got to know these families and understand the true sacrifices they make to protect our country, the more we forged ahead. Days, weeks and months spent away from family members. Missed ball games and dance recitals. Then the risk and danger of getting wounded or worse yet, a life lost.
As we grew our Foundation, we saw it could be possible to get something in the hands of every Iowa member of the Armed Services. Held back by logistics, we realized we would never make it around to every unit at the rate we were going.
The Pork Care Package Program was officially born, which allowed us to get a gift in the hands 9,778 Iowa Soldiers, plus, we were able to find pathways to the Marine and Navy Reserves, Army Reserves, Fighter Wings, ROTC and Survivorship organizations. Cookbooks, seasoning packets and grocery lists have accompanied the coupons, and every year thousands of thank you cards, emails and notes flood in from appreciative families. All thankful for one of the simplest things we take for granted—a meal together with their family.
On this Independence Day, we celebrate the fact we are HOME OF THE FREE, BECAUSE OF THE BRAVE!