By Samantha L. Quigley
WASHINGTON, Aug. 23, 2006 – Jim Mayer is "lovin' it." Yesterday, with Ronald McDonald on hand, a Washington-area McDonald's restaurant honored the "Milkshake Man," as Mayer is better known, for providing injured servicemembers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here with their shakes and his support for more than 16 years. "It means the world to me. I'm just tickled," Mayer, who delivers an average of 45 shakes a week -- mostly chocolate -- and has dropped only two, said. "The first 16 years are the hardest, and then you get a day like this."
David DeLacy, director of operations for the restaurant, presented Mayer with $250 in restaurant gift cards in a ceremony at the restaurant. Mayer also received a certificate declaring him one of McDonald's "Most Valued Customers" for his loyalty. "Any time we have a member of our community who really goes above and beyond what's required, what's expected of anyone, ... it's just an honor," he said. DeLacy added that he's pleased Mayer chose McDonald's milkshakes to take to the troops, and that he thinks it's even better that they come from his store. "This restaurant has been in this community for 42 years, so we're just really glad."
McDonald's is a member of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which highlights grassroots and corporate support for U.S. military members. It's that membership that helped make McDonald's corporate offices aware of Mayer's efforts, Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communications and public liaison, said.
"(Mayer) has been buying milkshakes from McDonald's, but it was because McDonald's is a partner of America Supports You that we could tell the story to the corporate level," she said. "McDonald's was not necessarily aware of what was going on with Milkshake Man, and so it was a perfect partnership, remembering that America Supports You is a connector campaign."
Mayer said that while the McDonald's honor was very touching, he gets a sense of internal reward from his involvement with Walter Reed patients. The milkshakes are like a little piece of America for the servicemembers, many of whom served in Iraq or Afghanistan before arriving at Walter Reed, he said. "It brings a little smile to them," he said.
Mayer, a Vietnam veteran and double-leg amputee who works for the Veterans Affairs Department in its Office of Seamless Transition, said he's learned as much as he's taught while serving as a peer-level volunteer. "I used to think that I would go in and tell my own story and that would be some kind of role model example, but that's not what I've learned," he said. "What I've learned is ... listen to them and what they just went through, what their hopes are. That's the real power."
Retired Army Captain Lonnie Moore benefited from that power. He lost his right leg above the knee in an incident near Ramadi, Iraq, and found himself on the receiving end of one of Mayer's milkshakes. Two years after he met Mayer, Moore still looks to the Milkshake Man for mentoring and friendship.
"It was much more about what Jim provided to me as a mentor and as a friend than it was the milkshake," Moore said. "Jim told me that life as an amputee is not going to end my life and I'll be as productive and I want to be."
Moore added that Jim deserves the recognition he received. "I know he doesn't publicly seek it, but he's touched many, many lives," he said.