Jack Daniel's has been BFFs with the United States military for 150 years. The brand claims its founder served medicinal whiskey to Civil War soldiers, and today, our armed services reciprocates as the No. 1 purchaser of Jack Daniel's Single Barrel whiskey in the world, with each barrel costing around $10,000.
It seems only logical, then, for the liquor company to team up with the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) for Jack Daniel's philanthropy, "Operation Ride Home." Now in its sixth year, the program gives active-duty, junior enlisted military and their families, who couldn't otherwise afford it, the chance to go home for the holidays.
"Their fathers drank it; their grandfathers drank it. It just represents a little bit of home to them," said Svend Jansen, Jack Daniel's Global PR manager. "With Jack Daniel's having such a strong military connection and the military spending so much on us, this was the least we could do."
Since 2011, the Lynchburg, Ky.-based distillery and ASYMCA have forged a symbiotic partnership. The brand raises all of the funds—donating $100,000 annually—while the nonprofit finds those who deserve them. There's no application process. Instead, the ASYMCA asks senior enlisted leaders, officers and chaplains who's the hardest working and which service members are deployed the most.
"We are afraid if you just put an application up—have people first come, first served—that we may not be hitting the most deserving population," said Vice Adm. William French, president and CEO of ASYMCA.
To get the word out, Jack Daniel's posts a video on its social media, as well as features shelf talkers and case cards at stores and bars. All promotional materials point customers to the "Operation Ride Home" website where they can make a tax-deductible donation that goes entirely to the cause. In 2016, it's raised more than $250,000—the most to date—thanks to Jack Daniel's initial donation and a co-branded Indian Motorcycle bike that garnered $150,000 at a Las Vegas auction.
Since inception, the program has also given more than $1 million in airline vouchers (up to $400 per person) and prepaid debit cards (up to $100 per person for gas, lodging and food). It's impacted 2,083 service members and their families—for a total of 4,606 people—sending them to 47 states (Alaska and Hawaii are excluded from the program).
The goodwill continues to deepen the brand's relationship with the military. Every Single Barrel customer gets their name engraved on a plaque displayed in the distillery. "The military became so big that we had to dedicate a whole wall to them," Svend said.
But name plaques on a wall pale in comparison to the thank-you letters and videos "Operation Ride Home" receives. "It's a great program, but for every family we support, there's another five to 10 families that are certainly deserving and we just don't quite have the funds yet to be able to take care of them all," he said.
Though "Operation Ride Home" only operates on 11 bases in seven states, mainly during the holiday season, both organizations said they are working to grow the program into a year-round, nationwide initiative. "It's a great way for folks who want to make a difference in a tangible way, to improve the lives of those young service members who serve their country and protect our freedoms, to be able to give something small back," French said.