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Patrons eat 'cakes for a cause
Breakfast fundraiser for wounded soldier
Applebee’s general manager Ceasar Walker pours pancake batter on a griddle in the restaurant’s kitchen. - photo by Photo by Hollie Moore Barnidge
Community members dug into buttery piles of fluffy flapjacks and sweet maple syrup Saturday morning with nary a nutritional concern because, as one diner said, “When you’re eating for a cause, the calories don’t count.”
Applebee’s pancake breakfast, the second of three fundraisers sponsored by the eatery, VIP Office Furniture and Supply, NeSmith Chevrolet and Liberty Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep, drew supporters from around the region, all eager to help a Hinesville soldier who was wounded in combat. Staff Sgt. Jason Letterman, who served with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID at Fort Stewart, lost both his legs, suffered traumatic brain injuries and fractured his shoulder and pelvis during an improvised explosive device blast two years ago in Farasiah, Iraq. Proceeds from the breakfast will help Letterman and his family build a handicap-accessible home as part of the Homes for our Troops program.
Cathy O’Hagan, VIP retail operations executive, who attended and helped coordinate the event, said she was happy to get involved when Applebee’s general manager Ceasar Walker approached her with his idea for a fundraiser.
“Caesar took on the cause and asked if we wanted to team up with him and we said ‘absolutely,” O’Hagan said. “When this cause came up, I thought it was an amazing opportunity.”
Given the sacrifices soldiers and their families make, she said, participating in fundraisers is the least community members can do.
“Living in Hinesville, a lot of people become complacent because we see soldiers every day. So, it’s easy for us to overlook what a privilege it is to live in a military town,” O’Hagan said. “Even if soldiers don’t get injured, they give up parts of their lives to serve our country. To me, Jason is just an example of what we can do. Buying a ticket and having a meal is just one thing we can do.”
Many of the restaurant’s customers felt the same way. Applebee’s server and bartender Alyson Ploth said patrons came in all week to make donations, and foot traffic was steady Saturday morning. Patrons could pay $5 at the door for a plate of pancakes and sausage, and sponsoring businesses sold tickets for weeks in advance.
“This turnout is better than the last fundraiser,” Ploth said. “This time, it’s really, really good.”
Motorcycle enthusiast Mike Schratz, his wife Kathleen Schratz, and riding buddies Dan Hanson and Brian Abel cruised from Rincon to Hinesville to contribute to the fundraiser and eat breakfast. The bikers said they encountered rain on the way in, but still enjoyed the ride and were happy to help.
“It’s a good deal,” Mike Schratz said. “I never knew Applebee’s did fundraisers like this. This is great for soldiers and we’re always looking for ways to help soldiers.”
Walker said he was amazed at the community’s willingness to support the Lettermans through the events, the last of which is Sept. 4.
“It’s going very well,” Walker said. “The surrounding community of Hinesville has been great. We’ve been getting phone calls from people all over, who can’t even come to the breakfast but promise to send donations and checks upwards of $100.”
The manager said the event wouldn’t have been possible without his employees’ help and support from sponsors and Applebee’s corporate office.
“Corporate is behind this 100 percent,” Walker said. “They give me the leeway to go into the community and support things like this.”
He said the restaurant normally would accept a portion of the proceeds to cover the cost of food and supplies, but in this case, the franchise is donating all of the money raised to the Letterman family’s cause. Walker said he wants to make $2,500 through the three pancake breakfasts, and he thinks the goal will be met by the end of September — as long as he can increase community awareness. “A lot of the business generated is through word of mouth,” the manager said.
O’Hagan agreed. “You can post an announcement as much as you want,” she said, “but word of mouth is the best advertisement.”
Tereon Jackson, who came in for pancakes with her husband Rodney Jackson and their children Angie and Stacey, said she learned about the fundraiser when she dropped into VIP.
“I use VIP for a lot of things and I heard about it from them,” she said. When they found out about Saturday’s breakfast, the Jacksons said they were happy to lend support. It’s good to log family time and “enjoy a good meal,” Tereon Jackson said.

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