The families of Illinois and South Dakota National Guard members and reservists serving in Iraq and Afghanistan received hams this Christmas, courtesy of local pork producers.

“It’s exciting to be involved in this,” says Minnie Bell, program and communications coordinator for the South Dakota Pork Producers Council (SDPPC). “The hams make a unique thank you gift.”

The SDPPC teamed with John Morrell & Company of Sioux Falls, SD, and Ellsworth Air Force Base, Ellsworth, SD, to distribute more than 1,000 hams in December to military families.

“It’s quite a sacrifice for the families to have their loved ones abroad,” says SDPPC President Bob Larson. “We just wanted to do something around the holidays to show our support for them.”

When Illinois pork producers heard about South Dakota’s plans, they decided to do something similar.

“This was a new project for us that has been well worth the effort,” says Tim Maiers, director of public relations for the Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA). “The troops get a lot of attention – and they should – but often their families here at home get overlooked. We wanted to remind them that people are thinking of them.”

The IPPA worked with the Illinois Department of Military Affairs and the state’s Family Readiness Groups to help pork producers distribute more than 2,400 hams.

“I don’t know that we can ever fully express the sincere admiration and appreciation that we have for these soldiers and their families who sacrifice so much to protect all that we know,” says IPPA President Art Lehmann, a pork producer from Strawn, IL.

Not all the hams, paid for with checkoff dollars, were eaten during the holiday season.

“One lady told us her ham is going in the freezer, so she can share it with her husband when he comes home from Iraq,” says Maier.