Photos courtesy of Laurie Manzardo and DHL Express
As all the drama of the New England Patriots’ white-knuckle Super Bowl XLIX victory over the Seattle Seahawks played out before the largest viewing audience in U.S. television history, American troops half a world away were not left out of the excitement – right down to the food specially brought in for their game-day enjoyment.
Just in time for the Super Bowl kickoff Feb. 1, American soldiers stationed all around Afghanistan were the recipients of piping-hot pizzas specially made by Rich Products Corporation – approximately 5,000 delicious pies in all – and shipped straight from the states, so that every troop on every U.S. base in the Southwest Asian country could enjoy a taste of home while watching the annual football spectacle.
With major support from Rich’s and DHL Express (the world’s leading international express shipping provider), the very special pizza delivery to Afghanistan was spearheaded by “Pizzas 4 Patriots,” a nonprofit organization whose mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen. Since 2008, Pizzas 4 Patriots has delivered nearly 150,000 pizzas to U.S. military personnel overseas.
Although Rich’s has been involved with the Pizzas 4 Patriots cause in the past – mainly providing the crusts that would go into finished pizzas made elsewhere in the United States – this was the first time the company had been called on to produce the entire consignment of fully topped, 16-inch pizzas for “Operation Pizza Bowl.”
“When it comes to the United States military, we are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the troops are fed well and being taken care of,” explains Tony Murphy, Rich’s National Accounts Manager in charge of military customers.
“Helping the community is one of Rich’s family values – it’s part of the company’s DNA,” Murphy says, “and the U.S. armed forces are a large part of our community. We’ve always maintained strong relationships with the military, dating all the way back to when our founder, Robert E. Rich Sr., worked with the War Food Administration during World War II. This Pizzas 4 Patriots effort has been another opportunity to give our soldiers overseas a slice of home.”
When news of the enormous pizza donation for America’s far-off military personnel started spreading, social media channels lit up in approval. Posted one knowledgeable and appreciative Sergeant First Class on Facebook: “Though I am currently not deployed, I know firsthand x4 how it is to be in the combat zone and away from the luxuries that we have in this country. A slice of pizza to one person is JUST that, but a slice of pizza to a troop downrange (deployed) means so much more. It is a slice of HOME and I can guarantee you that slice will take the morale from 0 to 100 REAL fast!”
Rich’s, one of the nation’s leading high-quality pizza suppliers to the foodservice industry, actually stepped up its involvement in the eleventh hour to make sure this season’s “Operation Pizza Bowl” didn’t go bust, after the charitable program’s regular pizza maker pulled out of the endeavor toward the end of 2014. With less than six weeks to go before Super Bowl XLIX, that unexpected development left the panicked Pizzas 4 Patriots’ founder, retired Master Sgt. Mark Evans, scrambling to find another pizza source for the mammoth production task.
Evans had heard about Rich’s new, fully topped pizza production line – the largest of its kind in the country – that had just launched in summer 2014 at its Crest Hill, Ill., manufacturing plant, near Chicago. So he phoned his contact at Rich’s, Director of Product Development Eric Porat, asking if the company would be willing to expeditiously produce enough pizzas to feed every U.S. soldier in Afghanistan on Super Sunday. Porat promptly conferenced in Donna Reeves-Collins, Rich’s Director of Marketing for Pizza and Flatbreads, who, while taking a hard look at the calendar, conditionally agreed, “Yes, if it is at all humanly possible.”
“Saying we had short notice is an understatement,” states Reeves-Collins. “It was right before Christmas and we all were initially thinking there just wouldn’t be enough time to pull this off, realizing the pizzas would actually have to be shipped to Afghanistan at least two weeks in advance of the Super Bowl Feb. 1. But we knew this was for the troops and that we’d be providing our soldiers one of those things they miss most about being away from home. One by one, everybody on the Rich’s team said we absolutely needed to figure this out. So I told Mark Evans that Rich’s would absolutely make this happen.”
With their own military-like efficiency, associates around the Rich’s organization, and particularly on both its “Speed-to-Market” team and its Operations team at the Crest Hill facility, rose to the occasion, many working through the holidays, and they pulled the effort off flawlessly.
Mark Evans, the Pizzas 4 Patriots head, was able to rest easy come game time for the NFL championship, gratified his personal project for America’s armed forces had delivered again, as promised. “Having served overseas, I personally know that having a taste of home on Super Bowl Sunday is a powerful experience for troops stationed abroad,” he says. “I am grateful to Rich Products Corporation and to DHL Express for making this experience possible for our brave servicemen and servicewomen.”