It was a Friday night in June 2008, “guys’ night” for Mark Evans and his son.
Mr. Evans and his wife have two older daughters, but that night it was meant for just him and his fifteen-year-old son, Kent. They’d ordered pizza. The TV was on, playing a program about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Do they have pizzas there in the Middle East?’” Evans, a resident of Elk Grove Village, Ill., remember his son asking that night about the US troops engaged in the fighting. Evans, a retired master sergeant who was in the Air Force for 26 years, was able to reply from experience when he told Kent, “No, they’re eating out of boxes.”
That's when Kent asked his dad if they could send pizzas to the troops overseas.
Evans e-mailed US Army Gen. David Petraeus, the head of US forces in Iraq, asking about the idea and, Evans says, he received a reply within 12 hours. It's a great idea, go for it, the general had said. “Only a master sergeant can do this,” the e-mail from General Petraeus read, according to Evans.
Evans, who works for AT&T, and Kent, who is now a student at the Illinois Institute of Technology and enrolled in the Air Force ROTC program there, originally wanted to raise enough money to send 300 pizzas to soldiers overseas, but were able to ship more than 2,000 for the Fourth of July that year. The shipping company DHL Express delivered the food for no charge.
Since the success of the initial program, the two have continued the effort, sending pizzas to troops for every Fourth of July and Super Bowl Sunday as well as delivering pizzas to veterans hospitals in the United States for Veterans Day. They call their effort Pizzas4Patriots.
This year, Pizzas4Patriots will send 10,000 Uno’s pizzas to troops for the Super Bowl, a number Evans said was selected in honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. They're calling the Super Bowl effort Operation Not Forgotten, a name Evans says was selected because, despite the war in Iraq ending, he and the other Pizzas4Patriots supporters want to show soldiers that they are still appreciated even after combat is over.
“There will always be soldiers somewhere making the world a better place,” Evans says.
Evans, who also has a daughter in the Air Force, says that after spending time himself serving in the Air Force he knows how good getting a gift from home can feel.
“When you’re in the military, you wonder, ‘Are they thinking of me at all?’ ” he says. “A letter or anything from home [is good], but pizza….”
He said pizza is a special gift because the food is such a staple of American life. “When you go celebrate, it’s always pizza,” he says.
The pizzas are delivered power-baked and cryo-frozen, Evans says. They just have to be heated when they arrive for the troops. Reaction from soldiers who received the pizza has been overwhelmingly positive, he says. “Their eyes light up,” he says. “And they say, ‘You made me think of home.’ ”
Service personnel will go up to his daughter in the Air Force and tell her, “I just had some of your dad’s pizza!”
For the Fourth of July 2012, Evans wants to send 50,000 pizzas overseas. And his goal for the next Super Bowl is to deliver 100,000 pizzas to US troops.
The best part of the volunteer project, he says, is waking up on the morning of the Super Bowl. “You’ll be drinking your coffee and ... you think, ‘The guys are going to get the food today.’ You get chills. There’s no better feeling in the world.”
• Sign-up to receive a weekly selection of practical and inspiring Change Agent articles by clicking here.