As the calendar turned from 2020 to 2021 and the situation with COVID-19 was still fluid, we were uncertain if in-person events would take place this year. Unfortunately, just before in-person events were cleared to take place, we decided to forgo our Say Thanks Day Block Party. While we were sorry to cancel the event again this year, we were excited to be able to gather at many of the annual events that were able to be held on our behalf and at our annual fundraising dinner. 2021 brought many memorable moments for MMAF!
Having decided to cancel the Say Thanks Day Block Party, MMAF wanted to encourage our supporters to continue to walk and run to support Minnesota Service Members and their families. In June, a fundraising mailer was sent to all supporters, and any donor who contributed $50 or more was sent a reflective vest with the MMAF logo for their contribution. Thanks to our many generous supporters who contributed during the campaign, over $30,000 was raised for MMAF.
Freedom Run, Minnesota Lake
The 15th Annual Freedom Run – Minnesota Lake, took place on Saturday, June 19. Participants began arriving in Minnesota Lake shortly after 8:00am to take part in what organizers had hoped would be a historic day, due to a large presence of pre-event publicity, perfect weather in the forecast and a flyover of a WWII era B-25 Bomber. By 10:00am, barricades on Main Street had to be extended by a block to accommodate the number of motorcycles and classic cars already lining the streets, with two more hours to go before riders were set to depart. At 10:45 AM, the Color Guards of Minnesota Lake and Wells presented the Colors, and Freedom Run Board Member Shellie Berndt provided a chilling rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner to kick of the event program. MMAF’s Joe Bennek addressed the crowd with stories of how MMAF provided checks to veterans in need during the COVID pandemic and then called upon a Navy veteran with 27 years of service, Equipment Operator First Class Butch Shimota, to join him on stage. EO1 Shimota, of Webster, thanked everyone for attending and spoke about the great impact that MMAF and the support of the Southern Minnesota community has been for him and other veterans. The formal program concluded with a blessing of the bikes from Minnesota Lake’s Pastor Rudy Maurer and riders were asked to head to their bikes to prepare for the flyover. At exactly 12:00pm, Miss Mitchel, the B-25 Bomber, flew low over town and circled back over Main Street as Riders headed out on their 120-mile journey. Nearly 400 bikes and more than 30 classic cars took part in the ride, the largest turnout in the history of the event. Additionally, 2,000 raffle tickets were sold and a silent auction was held to raise additional funds for MMAF. We offer a special thank you to Lorrie Petersen, Kim Giese, Danny Woitas, Shellie Berndt and the rest of the Freedom Run Board for their long-time support. The 2021 Freedom Run raised over $40,000, and the event has raised over $300,000 for MMAF over it’s 15-year history.
Twin Cities River Rats Water Ski Show
The Twin Cities River Rats were back on the water this summer and hosted their annual Military Appreciation show on Tuesday, August 10. With a crowd of around 2,000 people on hand, MMAF’s Project Director, Joe Bennek, updated the crowd on MMAF’s impact during the Covid Pandemic and how we awarded over $900,000 in grants over a 15-month timeframe. Nearly $2,500 was raised this year, meaning the River Rats have raised over $25,000 for MMAF since 2009.
Minnesota State Fair Military Appreciation Day
MMAF was excited for the State Fair to return as we participated in the annual Military Day. While attendance was down this year, we were busy the entire day, sharing information with service members and their families, handing out MMAF T-shirts and meeting some of our grant recipients. We also appreciated meeting some of our generous supporters, who continue to be encouraged by the work we’re doing to say “Thanks” to service members and their families. Military Day is always one of our favorite days of the year!
Garage Logic Podcast State Fair Promotion
The Garage Logic Podcast sold window clings at the State Fair this year to raise money for MMAF. Long time MMAF supporters, Dennis Kirk, helped secure airtime on the podcast each day to talk about MMAF and our mission, while encouraging fairgoers to purchase a GL window cling during the 2021 Fair. The publicity also helped encourage grant recipients to apply and the campaign brought in over $2,000 for MMAF over the two-week campaign.
9/11 Commemoration at the State Capitol
MMAF was humbled and honored to be asked to be on hand as the Department of Veterans Affairs commemorated the 20th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. Moments of Silence were observed at 7:46, 8:03, 8:37 and 9:03 a.m. and a “Reading of the Names” ceremony was held to recognize the Minnesotans who perished on 9/11 and in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of Minnesota’s Gold Star Families, and the families of those killed on 9/11, were on site to read the name of their loved one. The day also included remarks and tributes from Jill Stephenson, Gold Star Mother of Corporal Benjamin Kopp, Mariah Jacobson, Daughter of Tom Burnett, General Joseph Votel, Governor Tim Walz and many other elected officials. Four F-16’s from the 148th Fighter Wing conducted a flyover in Missing Man formation, providing a powerful visual for everyone in attendance.
Minnesota Twins Armed Forces Appreciation Day
MMAF was excited to take part in the Minnesota Twins Armed Forces Appreciation Day as we recognized two grant recipients on the field prior to the Twins game vs the Kansas City Royals. MMAF Co-Founder, General (retired) Denny Schulstad awarded grants to SSGT Zach Husted and SFC Tony Wilking for their service. The recipients and their families were also given a tour of Target Field and met Twins Hall of Famers Tony Oliva and Justin Morneau. Armed Forces Appreciation Day was an outstanding day for our grant recipients and we are grateful for the continued support of the Minnesota Twins organization.
Band in the Bay with Lee Brice
The evening of Sunday September 12 brought a unique fundraising event for MMAF as over 200 people attended a private concert at the home of MMAF supporters Damian and Melissa Novak. Award winning country artist Lee Brice headlined the event, which was held to benefit both MMAF and Folds of Honor. Roger Sit, MMAF Chair, explained the mission of MMAF to this new audience as part of a pre-show program and Lee Brice played an excellent show for the festive crowd on a beautiful evening. The event also prompted coverage from WCCO’s Jennifer Mayerle that helped raise awareness for MMAF. Thanks to the support of the Novak family, Lee Brice and many generous donors, over $50,000 was raised for MMAF.
Better Than Donating
The Better Than Donating consignment shop in Bloomington made MMAF it’s charity of the month for September. A percentage of all sales was donated to MMAF and shoppers were also encouraged to make contributions to the organization. Over $1,000 was raised throughout September.
Minnesota Vikings Games
In addition to the monetary support the Vikings organization provides to MMAF, the Vikings and their season ticket holders donated over 200 tickets to MMAF for games in August, September and October, allowing for over 100 MMAF grant recipients and their families to attend games! Thank you to the Vikings for their long-time support and for providing great experiences for our grant recipients and their families.
Hubbard Broadcasting Coverage
On Monday, September 20, MMAF’s Project Director, Joe Bennek, joined Chris Egert and Megan Newquist on Minnesota Live. The segment, which ran on KSTP – Twin Cities, WDIO – Duluth and KAAL – Rochester, highlighted the mission of MMAF along with the fundraising dinner with Secretary James Mattis. On Thursday, September 30, MMAF Chair, Roger Sit, joined Kevin Doran for an extended segment on KSTP’s Nightcast program. The in-depth segment also featured an interview with Secretary James Mattis on why he supports MMAF and our mission “Thank” Minnesota service members and their families. The awareness created by these stories prompted hundreds of grant applications and will likely result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants being given to Minnesota Service members and their families.