One man. Two dogs. 1,100 jars. Six weeks. And, if all goes to plan, approximately $4,400 in happy holiday homes for shelter animals.
Every winter, Tim Straubel, a professor of German in WKU’s Department of Modern Languages, embarks on the undertaking of selling his homemade jams to raise donation money for the Bowling Green-Warren County Humane Society.
In the past, he has raised as much as over $3,000 in a year, all of which goes to reduce the adoption prices for homeless animals who might otherwise have difficulty being adopted, particularly seniors, those with greater medical needs, long-time shelter residents and pairs of animals that must be adopted together.
“Lil’ MO Jam,” as Straubel calls his enterprise, becomes available for sale on the first Monday in November (this year on November 6), but the process starts much earlier. He said the complete timeline for gathering the ingredients, cooking the jam and then jarring the final product takes about six weeks. This is due to a number of factors, he said, especially that he does both the making and selling of the jam almost entirely on his own, without making any personal profit, all while working full-time as a professor.
Another challenge, but one he embraces, is ensuring that all or nearly all of the produce he uses comes from all-natural sources. Aside from the typical additives required to make jam, namely sugar and pectin (a starch found in plant cells that makes jam able to hold its shape), and the occasional out-of-season fruits (such as strawberries) that he must buy from the store, he said that all of his ingredients come from his garden or the farms and gardens of people he knows. Even the lemons for lemon juice, the only preservatives he said he uses in the jams, are naturally and locally sourced.
“It’s the way I’m able to kind of keep the cost down,” he said. “I pay for all the jars myself, and I have to buy all the sugar myself and I have to buy pectin.”
Straubel also said that, because the availability of different ingredients changes from year to year, the available flavors are also always changing. In Lil’ MO’s first season, he was able to sell peach and raspberry. This year, his ingredients allowed for a total of 51 different flavors, from Strawberry-Lemon and Cinnamon-Pear to Mango-Pear-Lime, and even some with a little kick from bourbon, margarita or fruit daquiri.
Straubel had no plans of selling his jams the first season that he produced them, he said. Simply pursuing a hobby, he made a small quantity in limited flavors to give out to friends, family and coworkers. However, he said, many people advised him that he could be very successful if he began selling them.
“And I just said, ‘I couldn’t sell it, that’s not right, that’s not why I do it,’ he said, “‘I just make it because it’s fun.’”
Things became clear to him, he said, when the idea came to him to give away the proceeds to a charitable cause. He thought of his two dogs, both shelter animals themselves, and the struggle that they went through to get adopted because they were emotionally attached to each other and had to be adopted together.
Combining their names, Maggie and Owen, into an acronym, Straubel created Lil’ MO Jams in the late fall of 2011. At the end of the holiday season, he was happy to have raised $375 to benefit future beloved pets just like his. The next year, however, interest soared and he brought in around $1,200, and just a year later, proceeds more than doubled to total $3,113.
At the beginning of the 2017 holiday season, Straubel said he had 1,100 jars of jam available for purchase, and as of Friday, Nov. 17, customers ordered about 800 jars. He said that he will continue to sell the jams until all 300 remaining jars have been bought, and if all customers follow through on paying for their orders, he will have raised around $4,400.
Straubel said he feels support from his colleagues in the Department of Modern Languages, as well as from students in his classes, who he noted are especially enthusiastic to help his cause.
“It’s actually super nice when they only buy two jars of jam,” he said, “and then they give me a $20 bill to pay for their jam…and they say, ‘keep the change, it’s going for a good cause.’ Considering how students ‘never have any money,’ that they’re still willing to give to a cause, that is heart-warming.”
Lil’ MO Jams are available at $4 a jar, and can be ordered by writing in the red “Lil’ MO’s binder” in the Modern Languages Department office on the second floor of the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts Center, by messaging Straubel on his Facebook or by sending him an email at [email protected]
During the late fall season, Straubel has made many Facebook posts promoting the jams, and often includes pictures of his dogs because he said he donates to the Humane Society as an extension of his love for them. He said they do not need the money or awareness raised from the sales because they are “spoiled enough,” and he wants to give that life to others like them.
“This money,” he said, “is to make sure other animals at the shelter can get lucky and find a mom or a dad or a family that loves them just as much and they can be also spoiled rotten for the rest of their lives.”
Reporter Chris DiMeo can be reached at [email protected]