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Mercy on the War Front

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Made of wood and corrugated steel — whatever materials are available — makeshift coffee bars have sprung up in hardscrabble military bases around the world.

They serve as wake-up calls in more ways than one.

Thank Holy Joe's Café, an all-volunteer ecumenical ministry that provides United States military chaplains in 35 countries with fresh, free coffee. Since the ministry began nearly 10 years ago, some 1,800 chaplains of all faiths use the coffee to enhance their "ministry of presence," says Thomas Jastermsky, founder of Holy Joe's Café, which he administers with a handful of volunteers out of First Congregational Church in Wallingford, Connecticut.

The Marians are urging Marian Helpers to financially support the efforts of Holy Joe's. The funds go directly to the purchase of Mystic Monk Coffee, roasted by the Carmelite Monks in Wyoming.

"Supporting Holy Joe's serves two worthy purposes," says Fr. Chris Alar, MIC, director of the Association of Marian Helpers. "It helps chaplains create these café settings where our military men and women can come and decompress and have an opportunity to speak with a chaplain. Secondly, it helps support the Carmelite Monks, who do great work."

Not to mention, the coffee shipped by Holy Joe's decidedly breaks rank with the reported "rotgut" of military mess halls. This is the good stuff.

Holy Joe's provided Marian U.S. Army Chaplain Fr. Donald Van Alstyne, MIC, with everything he needed for a coffee ministry he established in Afghanistan in 2012.

"The soldiers in this work space are under pressure 24/7, so these items go a long way," says Fr. Donald, who serves as a fulltime hospital chaplain for the Veteran's Administration in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

In military camps, such cafes have literally become godsends.

"Through a single cup of our coffee," says Mr. Jastermsky, "chaplains can connect with the troops and provide information on what religious services are offered, including prayer groups and Bible studies. You never know what kinds of seeds are going to get planted in a situation like that. Being away from everything back home can take a toll on them."

In addition, says Mr. Jastermsky, "troops who are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can oftentimes get the first step in getting help through the chaplains."

Holy Joe's ships about 2,700 pallets of coffee a year overseas. That equals about 32.4-million cups of coffee, annually. But that's still not enough to meet demands.

In addition to the coffee purchased through the Carmelite Monks, coffee companies such as Keurig Green Mountain and New England Coffee Company have been generous donors. Civic groups and churches nationwide have contributed funds.

Soldiers experience a "huge morale boost" when they receive supplies from back home, Fr. Donald says. Such shipments, he says, "serve as an acknowledgement that people back home are thinking of them and haven't forgotten the hardship, fear, and sacrifice" that can define daily life overseas.

To support Holy Joe's, please email holyjoescafe@att.net or call (203) 859-0031.

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