Elk Grove family's pizza drop for troops goes super for Super Bowl
An Elk Grove Village resident is known worldwide as "the pizza man."
Mark Evans is a retired Air Force master sergeant, now working for AT&T. This much he knows: He likes pizza, and as a former soldier, he knows that the troops do, too.
"Pizza's the new apple pie," Evans says. "For soldiers who are a long way from home, it's a celebration of life."
For the third year, a nonprofit organization -- Pizzas 4 Patriots, which Evans started with his teenage son, Kent -- will ship 7,000 pizzas to military troops serving overseas in time for Sunday's Super Bowl.
He figures that if each soldier eats a quarter of the pizza, it should be enough to feed 28,000 troops.
They are teaming up with DHL and Uno Chicago Grill, which is providing the majority of the deep dish pies, while a private label pizza corporation is providing the remainder.
"We feel strongly about taking care of those who protect and defend our freedom," says Frank Guidara, CEO of UNO Chicago Grill. "Sending 'a slice of home' for the Super Bowl is another way to say thanks. We're grateful for all they do."
The shipments go out Tuesday from New York. Their first stop will be Bahrain, where they will be disseminated by DHL Express and military vehicles to 38 forward operating bases, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea and the Philippines.
Dubbed Operation Pizza Bowl, it is expected to be one of the largest pizza deliveries on Super Bowl Sunday.
Mike Taylor, the global senior manager for U.S. operations with DHL Express, has coordinated the pizza drop since the start.
"That's what I do, is handle the unique requirements and logistical needs of moving things for the government," Taylor says. "What makes this different is that it's a perishable product going to the desert."
He says in order to preserve the pizzas, he has to figure in the temperature in the desert and calculate their route to the soldiers down to the second.
It's complicated, but worth it.
"Something like this goes a long way to boost morale," Taylor said.
Pizza 4 Patriots came about three years ago, when Evans and his son were enjoying pizza on a Friday night.
"We were watching a war movie on TV, and I wondered how good the food was that soldiers get," says Kent Evans, now in his senior year at Elk Grove High School. "I thought what would it take to send pizzas over to the troops?"
Mark Evans went right to the top. He e-mailed Gen. David Petraeus, former commander of the Central Command, and current commander in Afghanistan of U.S. troops and the International Security Assistance Force.
"He e-mailed us back within eight hours," Kent Evans says, "offering his support."
Petraeus continues to stay in touch with Evans and his son, expressing his appreciation for their pizza deliveries, which now also arrive on July 4 and on Veterans Day.
"We have the support of some of the highest generals in the military," Mark Evans says, "and I'm not surprised. They're very concerned about their soldiers."
Local donations continue to fuel the pizza deliveries. The nonprofit organization has received many of its donations from Elk Grove Village residents, including student groups at Elk Grove High School and Grove Junior High.
But they also have received $1,500 from elementary students at Winston Campus in Palatine, who collected pledges for playing their musical instruments.
"I think people respond to it because it's a family project," says Kent Evans, who hopes to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the fall.
"It's not some big corporation sending pizzas, but one family. And that lets everyone get in on it."