Sunday, January 3, 2010

Holy Joe's extends extravagant welcome to the troops

Troops enjoy a break at Holy Joe's Café, Sather Air Base, Iraq.

Written by Jeff Woodard
November 10, 2009
It's no exaggeration to say Holy Joe's Café has helped U.S. military personnel overseas a ton in the past 3 1/2 years.   In fact, it's a gross understatement.
Founded in June 2006 by Thomas Jastermsky, a deacon at

First Congregational Church of Wallingford, CT , Holy Joe's has now supplied 112 tons of coffee to troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. "We have had 405 chaplains assisting us in serving 120 locations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait," says Jastermsky, noting the increase in locations, from 95 last year. Someone is always stepping up to the plate to deliver generous amounts of "joe." In September, one of the heavy hitters was Green Mountain Coffee, giving 1,000 pounds in that month alone. One of the prominent players thus far has been the Tar Heel state, says Jastermsky. "North Carolina has been really, really important to Holy Joe's."  Trinity Reformed, UCC  Conover, NC is a caffeinated case in point.

"For us, it was about being supportive of our chaplains and other military personnel in Kuwait, Afghanistan or Iraq," says the Rev. Tom Hamilton, a Trinity member and retired Associate Conference Minister from the Central Atlantic Conference. "We could be divided about whether to support the war, but there was no division as to whether to support our troops."

Hamilton said his friend the Rev. John Gundlach, UCC Minister for Government Chaplaincies, notified him when Holy Joe's was in its early stages. "He asked if this was something our congregation would be interested in supporting," says Hamilton, "and we have shared this with several churches since then."

Emphasizing Holy Joe's impact on mission fulfillment at Trinity Reformed UCC is at the heart of everything Hamilton says on the subject. "This is so meaningful to the individuals of our church and meaningful in terms of general rapport with one another. It has given us another piece of good news to talk about – what binds us together, as compared with the opposite."

That shared support is galvanizing the congregation even further. "We're making plans to give additional support at the conclusion of this year or the beginning of next year," says Hamilton. Averaging 150 in weekly worship attendance, Conover has been supporting Holy Joe's to the tune of $2,000 to $3,000 a year.

Holy Joe's Café continues to reach out to all troops overseas – especially the significant number who have had little church background or spiritual development. Jastermsky says the uplifting effect is perhaps most pronounced in combat hospitals in Iraq and on-site "decompression models" where soldiers can speak one-on-one with chaplains.

The café has been extending more widely across ecumenical lines, more deeply into all corners of the country. One example is tiny Hope Congregational Christian Church in Clio, Ala. The 46-member church – averaging a weekly worship attendance of 35 – has been giving $200 a month to Holy Joe's for the past year.

In addition to receiving direct funds from churches, Holy Joe's is aided by donors participating via UCC-sponsored Equal Exchange, which ships the coffee overseas.

No Trinity members are currently engaged in active military duty overseas, says Hamilton. But spiritual ties to all who are serving are strong. "We register lists of names of persons serving in the military; it could be a relative or family member of a church member." Hamilton also notes that the Rev. John Bailey, of Brick UCC in Whitsett, N.C., is a Southern Conference representative serving as a chaplain in Iraq.

Now 76, Hamilton has been a member of Trinity for 12 years, with a UCC affiliation that dates to his boyhood. He's seen a great deal of good work accomplished in his church. Participation in Holy Joe's Café has not been the least of them.

"It's something special to keep a part of our life."

Jeff Woodard is a regular contributor to United Church News.

For further information on Holy Joe's Café or to donate coffee, please call 888-970-7994 or email
To donate via Equal Exchange, call 774-776-7366. The UCC Coffee Project web site is