Church groups cheer for Packers

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GREEN BAY, Wis. - For church groups, Green Bay Packers home games at Lambeau Field always mean additional income for worthy causes, such as seminary training, Catholic schools, parish budgets, and the homeless and hungry.

Several groups looked forward to the same opportunity to earn extra revenue at the Jan. 15 National Football League playoff game against the New York Giants.

Five hours before kickoff, hundreds of volunteers from all walks of life planned to begin their descent on the stadium for up to 12 hours of hard and sometimes very cold work to provide fans from both teams with food, comfort and plenty of souvenirs to take home.

"It's a 12-hour day from the time you leave home until you get back home," said Mike Bushman, coordinator of operations at a 22-man food booth at the stadium for a Knights of Columbus council.

The booth serves hundreds of hungry fans during Packers home games with piles of French fries and hundreds of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, bratwursts and hot dogs along with braided pretzels, pizza slices, fried cheese curds, hot chocolate, beer and soda.

"It's an in-house restaurant," Bushman said.

His Knights council is one of dozens of nonprofit groups, both religious and nonreligious, that ring all levels of Lambeau Field with food service booths. Other groups, including Catholic schools and parishes, raise funds by parking cars, handing out rental seats, souvenirs and game programs.

According to the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, a regular Packers home game brings in more than $8 million in revenue for hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Playoff games are estimated to be even more profitable.

Bushman said the Knights contract with Chicago-based Levy Restaurants Inc., which provides food service to most major league venues across the country, including Lambeau Field.

"Our partners at Lambeau Field are very passionate about giving back to the community," Eva Yusa, director of communications for Levy Restaurants, said of the Packers' willingness to allow Levy to bring in community volunteer groups to augment their professional staff.

Bushman figured the council would earn, not counting tips, at least $600 for any playoff game it works.

Funds raised at Packers games are used for a variety of purposes, including helping to fund the training of at least two seminarians from the Diocese of Green Bay.

"We decided that was where some of our money would go because that's where our greatest need is," Bushman told The Compass, the diocesan newspaper.

In addition, the council uses the money to help a Catholic-run food pantry in Menasha and food program in Oshkosh. Funds also are used to assist food programs at local homeless shelters.

Funds raised while volunteering at Packers games play an important part in the operating budget of All Saints Catholic Church in Demark.

Volunteers from the church help man the Packer Pro Shop during home games; they currently earn $100 each per game to bag purchases by fans.

"We have eight volunteers for each game, so that's $800 we earn for each game. That's very important to us. So it's awesome that we are having playoff games," said Louise Reetz, who coordinates the game day volunteers and a church fund-raising committee called Parish Funding.

"The money goes to our parish to keep our parish alive," Reetz said.

PMI Entertainment Group in Green Bay also works with the Packers to provide fundraising activities for church and other nonprofit groups.

"We have four parishes under contract," said Paula Kirchman, vice president of human resources for PMI. She said groups take tickets, hand out and pick up rental seats, collect recyclable items and clean up after games.

At the end of the year, generosity of a different kind marked the Packers' Dec. 25 regular-season game against the Chicago Bears when a gift in memory of a lifelong Packers fan gave recipients a Lambeau Field experience they'll never forget.

Rob Buchholz, on behalf of his mother, Theresa, and late father, William Buchholz Sr., donated five tickets to the Green Bay Diocese's Catholic Foundation along with spending money for the game. The tickets were distributed through Catholic Charities, and the recipients included Felipe Vazquez, 19, of Green Bay. It was his first game and he attended with his brother, Diego, 15, and an uncle.

Sidon-De Leon said Felipe, a Packers fan, has dealt with physical disabilities since childhood.

Buchholz, of Aurora, Ill., said his parents' devotion to the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., served as inspiration for donating the tickets.

"The Church remains the foundation for all of our family," said Buchholz, one of 11 children.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970