KIMBALL, Wis. - Hungry Gogebic Range residents helped fund an all-American cause Sunday at the Outfitters 4 Patriots spaghetti dinner at the Kimball Community Center.
About halfway through the six-hour feed, around 200 tickets had been sold, whether in advance or at the door, and 50/50 raffle tickets were selling fast too.
All proceeds benefitted Outfitters 4 Patriots, a nonprofit organization that offers all expenses-paid, guided hunting and fishing trips for wounded veterans and disabled children in the area, director Jim Holden, of Hurley, said.
"All the money that gets generated up here stays up here," Holden said. "All the veterans will get their room and board for free, and John Grenz and I, through Snowbelt Custom Outfitters, do all the guiding, baiting and setting up stands for them, whether it's for fishing or hunting."
Since their efforts began in Fall 2013, the pair has completed trips in the area for about a dozen veterans, including bow hunting, rifle hunting, ice fishing and turkey hunting. It's all to give back to soldiers who have sacrificed for their country.
"It's something we really feel strongly about," Grenz said. "We've got friends and family that have served. It's a really good cause." He said that it helps veterans who have been either physically or mentally disabled by showing them that others care for them when they're feeling down and lonely.
"When you first talk to a guy, he's feeling pretty down ... they feel so alone," Grenz said. But "when they have something to look forward to," it really helps.
"The level of their love for the country is just amazing," Grenz said. "So why not give something back to them? They're fighting for everybody else that can't fight for themselves."
Veterans are able to sign up on the organizations website, outfitters4patriots.org, to be put on a list for a trip. Any disabled veteran is eligible, whether from Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula or elsewhere.
Grenz said most clients say they don't even care if they catch a fish or bag a buck. What really matters to them is "the hunt, the camaraderie, the whole nine yards - it shows that somebody cares," he said.
"So many of them we've done trips with, they come in as strangers and they leave as friends," Holden said. One of the most rewarding parts is when the trip is successful. "The look on their faces when they catch a big fish or get a nice animal ... it's fun for (Grenz) and I to see that we made it work," he added.
So far, the trips have been 100 percent successful, Holden said. They hope to continue that rate, but, "when it comes to hunting and fishing, you can't guarantee anything," he said.
The effort started small, with Holden and Grenz planning to offer about six trips for wounded veterans. But one of the first men that took a trip here, Mark Meunier, enjoyed it so much he wanted to get involved. "He has taken it way further than (we) would've," Holden said.
Meunier helped create the nonprofit group and gathering donations. Since then, things have "snowballed," Holden said. Outfitters 4 Patriots now operates in three regions, with Grenz and Holden handling trips in northern Wisconsin and the western U.P .; Meunier and Steve Fameree operating in the Green Bay area and south; and Patrick Blake, based in Menominee, Mich ., handling the rest of the U.P.
Holden and Grenz hope to continue expanding, and have gotten attention from veterans from as far away as Alabama and Oregon. "We can see it doing nothing but growing as donations come in," Holden said. They hope to possibly be able to take trips out west for veterans to hunt types of game not native to the Gogebic Range.
The organization uses 100 percent of donations and funding to run the trips - not a penny is taken for wages or salary, Grenz said. "There's just no way I could sit across the table at night with a guy who's done three tours in Iraq, been blown to bits, and look at him and think I made money off this guy," he said. "I couldn't do that."
All the guides' time is donated, and a percentage of Snowbelt Custom Outfitters' regular business is also given to Outfitters 4 Patriots.
The dinner was the third fundraiser the group has held since it began, with a 50/50 raffle in the fall in the Hurley area and a spaghetti dinner a couple weeks ago in Menominee.
Locally, there's been a lot of community support, Grenz said. "There's been a lot of people that really stepped up to the plate. It's actually quite humbling."
Holden was quick to name a handful of area business owners who have donated to the group.
Non-monetary support has been huge, too. Louise Demasi was instrumental in organizing Sunday's dinner, the pair said. "She's done 80 percent of the brainwork," Holden said, including handling finances, permits and ticket sales. "I could never have done anything like this by myself."
Demasi also secured food donations, including 40-50 loaves of bread and 10 gallons of sauce, from area bakeries and restaurants. Grenz and Holden presented her with a plaque of appreciation at the dinner to show their gratitude.
The men stressed several times that all the money raised Sunday will stay local, paying for lodging, meals, bait and other supplies for the disabled veterans who want to hunt or fish here.
"All the ingredients for the spaghetti feed, everything was donated by local businesses, so we want to make sure we get these guys up here, take them around to eat at their restaurants - make sure that we give back also," Grenz said.
Volunteers were also out in full force, cooking and serving food, taking tickets and helping clean up the hall after the event. A local Boy Scout troop came in to help clean after the dinner, too, Holden said.
"It's a lot of work behind the scenes, but just this one day is probably going to give six or eight veterans really nice hunts - two-, three- or four-day hunts," Grenz said. "I can't put a price tag on that. One day's really hard work - you can give so much back to those guys."
For more information, visit outfitters4patriots.org or contact organization president Mark Meunier at 920-227-3658 or firstname.lastname@example.org.