Lemonade stand is only sweet for soldiers

Joe has been raising funds for care packages for two years.

With the precision of a military operation, tables are set.  And lots and lots of military memorabilia is put on display.

Lemonade at this lemonade stand is almost an afterthought. 

"Would you like to buy a glass of lemonade?" asks 12-year-old Joe Hilty. 

He pours cup after cup. 

"You want some lemonade?" he asks a little boy. 

Money in a plastic container adds up.  And with each dollar collected, the goal of serving those who serve is one step closer. 

The money is going to buy items, packed in boxes and shipped overseas.  Toiletries, hand sanitizer, playing cards, cookies and candy.  A taste of "back home." 

Every week, he and his father take the care packages to the Portland, Indiana Post office and ship them off to U.S. servicemen and women all over the world.

"I started this two years ago," Joe explained to a customer, "and we send care packages to troops overseas and we raise money by selling lemonade."

"I really think this is the inspiration some of these soldiers need to keep going every single day and Joe does it.  Started when he was ten years old.  I think, what was I thinking about at ten-year-old?  It sure wasn't someone fighting for the country.  So he's just an inspiration for us," said Darla Bowman, who regularly buys lemonade from Joe and supports his cause. 

It all began with one box sent to a family friend.  Then Joe had an idea:  send another care package to a stranger - a random soldier, sailor or Marine.  After that, he was hooked. 

"I said, 'Mom, I want to keep doing this', and she said, 'We can't afford this,'" Joe explained. 

"And I actually thought that would be the end of it," said Lana Hilty, Joe's mother. "But he came up with the idea of starting a lemonade stand."

That blossomed into a full-blown family ministry called Lemonade 4 Soldiers.  They've set up shop at festivals and fairs and in downtown Portland, where Joe Hilty has become a household name. 

"Yeah, it's pretty hard not to be proud of a young man like that," said Joe's father Melvin Hilty.  "I don't even know if proud is the right word.  I think we need a new word, something beyond proud!" exclaimed his mother. 

Joes' efforts are paying off:  he's raised more than $15,000 sending some 500 care packages to the troops.

He's received countless letters of appreciation, unit patches, flags and military commendations.  "It just feels great," he said. 

Vietnam veteran Ken Griffith knows what it's like to get a care package while deployed in a combat zone. 

"To get it from a stranger it's fantastic because you know there's someone who really cares for you.  And caring is what it's all about...caring and sharing.  And Joe does a real good job of this," Griffith said.  

His mission is never really complete.  And when asked if great things are in store for their son, Joe's father says, " I think so."  His mother concurs, "I think so, he's already done great things!"

Joe's project proves that a simple idea and a whole lot of lemonade can do good because it takes true leadership to make things happen even if the leader isn't even a teenager. 

Lemonade 4 Soldiers Facebook page

If you want to send a care package, click here to learn more.