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Holy Joe's: A Taste of Home and Comfort for Servicemembers Overseas

Approaching its Fifth Anniversary, the Ministry of First Congregational Church UCC in Wallingford Now Supports Over 75 Chaplains Around the World

Carol Wallace and Tom Jastermsky
Carol Wallace and Tom Jastermsky with photos from Holy Joe's Cafes around the world. Tom with Equal Exchange coffee Tom examines a pound of Equal Exchange Coffee destined for servicemembers overseas in the Cooper Atkins warehouse.

WALLINGFORD (02/22/2011) -- On Pentecost Sunday in 2006, worshipers at the First Congregational Church UCC learned of a need at a Baghdad airbase they'd never heard before. The base chaplain there had obtained some coffee urns, to use in creating a small cafe where servicepeople could relax, find companionship with each other, and find spiritual support in a comfortable setting. Tom Jastermsky got inspired, and a new ministry was born.

Within days Jastermsky, a deacon of the church at the time, had called some of his favorite coffee producers, including Green Mountain Coffee and New England Coffee, and was overwhelmed with their prompt and generous response. The chaplains' gratitude further moved him to extend the effort. Seeking UCC chaplains in the military, he called the national offices of the United Church of Christ to speak with the Rev. John Gundlach, and in the course of an afternoon's conversations found yet another source of coffee in the UCC Coffee Project Equal Exchange program, which supports sustainable agriculture and fair compensation for coffee farmers. UCC congregations have the ability to designate part of their Equal Exchange purchases for Holy Joe's gifts to chaplaincy programs overseas.

Holy Joe's Cafes, which take their name from a Civil War era nickname for military chaplains, combine the solace of a casual, homely atmosphere with the presence of spiritual support for service members. In 2007 Captain Jeff Smith told the church in a letter of thanks, "My hope is to provide a place where they can come and get some coffee, tea, hot cocoa, treats, and be reminded of God's love for them."

"Multiple things: A lot of counseling gets done there," says Jastermsky, "We have chaplains who say, 'I had fifteen, eighteen a couple weeks ago at our chapel service; now we have seventy-five to eighty.' They come for a cup of coffee, and they'll stay for other programs."