March 1, 2017

As I look back over the years, remember that I have provided a lot of free meals to all sorts of people without ever really thinking about it. Maybe it is because there was once a point in my life when I would go a couple of days without much to eat or maybe it is because as a teenager there were many times that I would let my date order her meal first so I could calculate how much money I had left and determine if or what I would order. For most of my adult life, when I eat with someone, my personal policy is to always buy the meal. It is “My treat.” I have explained my policy countless times: “I always buy the meal so get whatever you want. If I ruin your meal, at least I paid for it.” Unfortunately, I have ruined a few meals for others over the years and some of my own!

I think about the importance of meals in the Bible. I even know a minister who earned his doctorate degree studying the importance of meals in scripture. For whatever reason, one day it dawned on me that that I really have been fortunate enough to have fed a lot of people. I started to wonder just how many, even though the number does not matter, and the following came to mind. (I recently finished reading a book on how useless facts explain things that most people take for granted or don’t think about at all!)

For many years I have provided meals for groups at my ranch. That number alone would be well over a thousand. Several years ago, when the Dallas economy was really bad and people were losing their homes and trying to make ends meet, I felt helpless wondering what I could do to help. I asked myself “What could I, one person with limited resources, possibly do to help?” At this same time, there was a severe drought in Texas which resulted in little grass for my cattle, which led me to my answer. I had most of my Texas Longhorn herd slaughtered and ground up into hamburger meat. I donated the meat to the North Texas Food Bank. To my amazement, the Food Bank sent me a letter informing me that my donation had provided 22,000 protein portions for those in need. Today a skull and horn mount from one of those Longhorns hangs on the wall in the bar at the Ruth’s Chris Steak House in North Dallas. Each time I look at that mount, it reminds me that we all have something we can give or do to help others even when we don’t think we can help and that we should not take our blessings for granted. Beneath that same mount is a table where I have held many heart to heart talks with family and close friends and bought their meals. There have been all sorts of serious conversations and tears of joy and sadness underneath that old Texas Longhorn. These meals and emotions and their location will not be forgotten. I am sure that you can recall your very own special meal moments in your life as well.

I have provided and continue to provide some of my most cherished and memorable meals at JAKE’S JOINT. Each Monday through Friday, we feed government and military jet aircraft flight crew members. My policy is that if a jet aircraft crew member shows up around lunch, they eat for a dollar. Most days around lunchtime you will see all sorts of military and government aircraft out on the ramp. It was my vision to build a place where government aviators away from home could have a place where they can always get a good meal and have some peace and quiet. It does my heart good each time I step into the place and see a group of young aviators in uniform with their maps unfolded on the table talking with passion about their flight experiences. It does me good to see different government agency pilots that are often in harm’s way eating their meal, still armed and ready for whatever they may encounter. In a quiet and discrete way, this is my way to say “Thank you” to those who wear uniforms and serve God, Country and Family. Yes, we sell jet fuel but these meals are not about fuel sales. The meals are about doing what is right and following your heart.

How can I forget to mention our memorable meals on wheels! I have a twenty foot Texas made BBQ pit that has been used to feed hundreds of military members and their families. It has been to the Southeast to Tyndall Air Force Base to serve Air Force families, to the Pacific Northwest to Whidbey Island to serve Navy families, West to El Paso to serve Army families and to many locations in between. It seems that everyone loves “Free Texas BBQ” especially when the smoker has a miniature Boeing 747 on top and the smoke comes out of the four engines! When we serve meals to our military members and their families, I always look deep into the eyes of each individual and think to myself, “Thank you for all of your sacrifices and for entrusting us with the protection and care of your loved one who rides, flies or works with us on the aircraft we maintain.” I see sons, daughters, wives, husbands and friends to whom we must always give our very best support. Because of these moments, when I look at aircraft I see people’s faces, dreams and loved ones; they are much more than just metal mechanical machines. These meals on wheels are another small way that we say “Thank you.” I make sure that our KING AEROSPACE team members who help with the meals understand this things. Meals are heartfelt and directly or indirectly allow us to share our blessings and demonstrate our purpose.

I collect a lot of things but I do not think it is an accident that I have a collection of mess hall tokens from countless military bases that were used to obtain a meal or a well deserved adult beverage. The token collection is from military bases all over the world and reflects several generations of military personnel and branches of the military. The coins or tokens sit in a Waterford crystal bowl in my Addison office. I sometimes pick up the coins and hold them tightly in my hand and feel a sense of honor and appreciation for all of the men and women who once held the very same coins prior to exchanging them for a meal or drink. I think about those who were far away from home and loved ones in the service of our Country. I humbly think about those who might not have made it back home. For whatever reason, holding those tokens is just one more thing that does my heart good. It makes me feel these men and women are still appreciated and not forgotten.

I don’t know about you, but I feel real uncomfortable about what to do when I am in my car waiting for the traffic light to go from red to green and someone approaches holding a cardboard sign wanting money. I often force myself to remember that the person holding that sign is someone’s son, daughter, father, brother or friend. I try to put aside other thoughts that I might have and remember that they also need a meal. For those people, I carry $5 gift certificates for a fast food meal in my car. When I hand them a plastic card, normally it takes them a few seconds to realize what I have given them. Then I often see the same gleam slowly develop in their eyes that I have seen in countless others that I have fed.

Maybe meals mean something special to me because I can recall a time as a young boy when my family was going through tough financial times. We cooked our meals inside our home and on a two burner Coleman kerosene camp stove and had an aluminum ice chest to keep things cool. During that same period, I fondly remember staying with my grandmother and her making me toast for dinner. Occasionally, she would accidently burn it until it was black! She would then take a knife and scrape it like crazy and smear jelly over the dark brown portion and tell me it was good! Looking back, these meals were special and memorable for me in a very good way.

Just maybe, all of these experiences have caused me to share my blessings around meals. The number of meals we serve is not important. It is the happiness or experience shared with each individual person we encounter that create memorable meals.

May we all remember those memorable meals of our past and may we create more. Know that you too can make a meal memory difference in those that you encounter! Know that you can count on me to pick up the meal tabs because, as the saying goes, “I’ll buy so get whatever you want. If I ruin your meal, I won’t feel bad because I paid for it.” As my mother taught me: “God is great, God is good, thank you for this food. Amen!”

Written by KING AEROSPACE Founder, Jerry Allan King-Echevarria.