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GREEN BAY – Nonprofit groups working at Lambeau Field last year earned $1.16 million serving soda, beer, brats and more to Green Bay Packers fans.

The Packers have long relied on nonprofit groups to run the bulk of concessions at Lambeau, and the organizations rely on games as a reliable source of income for their causes.

"For our group, this is a fantastic money-making fundraiser," said Mary Katers of Calvary Lutheran Church in Green Bay. "It would be hard to replace that income. We would have to go without and not do as much as we are able to do right now or we'd have to find something else to replace it."

The Packers have had three concessionaires in the past 30 years, including PMI, Levy Restaurants and Delaware North's Green Bay Sportservice, the current partner. Some of the nonprofit volunteer groups have been at Lambeau since the beginning, or nearly so.

Delaware North's transition in 2012 was bumpy, but group leaders say things are good now.

"In the beginning, there's always growing pains when a company comes in and wants to do it their way," Katers said. "As far as Delaware North, you ask them for something, you voice your concern, and they are there for you. It was like that last year. Prior to that, it was rare."

Groups receive 10 percent of net revenue for permanent stands and 5 percent for portable beer stands. Seventy-seven organizations provided workers last season. The highest-earning organization received $57,013, and 47 groups earned more than $10,000 each.

Hand of Hope is a faith-based organization, as are about a quarter of the groups working at the stadium. It provides assistance to people trying to right their lives but get "lost between the cracks."

Running the concessions stands is hard work, but at the same time is the easiest fundraiser they've done, said founder and president Karen Galske. "It's work, but they just have to show up and put in the time and we get paid."

Delaware North says it could use more workers. The optimum number would be 1,200 people, said SportService General Manager Charlie Millerwise. It had about 1,000 volunteers last year supplemented by 200 Delaware North employees.

Delaware North provides flexible schedules, online and off-sight training. It offers referral bonuses, full-season bonuses, early sign-up bonuses and a post-season appreciation dinner to keep the pipeline full.

"In a perfect world, you'd like to have folks available all season," Millerwise said, but he understands night games, weekday games and holiday games all are a challenge.

"We are very flexible and will work with groups of all sizes," he said.

Christmas falls on Sunday this year. Most NFL games will be played on Christmas Eve, including the Packers hosting the Minnesota Vikings.

The excitement of game day is itself an incentive for volunteers, said Irene Larson of Green Bay Exchange Club.

"People say 'Oh my, you have to work on Christmas Day, you have to work on Thanksgiving Day.' Fans are in a holiday mood. It seems to make it more fun," said Larson, who began volunteering at Lambeau in 1988.

Lambeau will have a minimum of 12 events this year: The University of Wisconsin-LSU football game, Family Night, two preseason games and eight regular season games. It will be more if the Packers host home playoff games.

Mission Basketball Academy, which is the parent organization of the Wisconsin Crusaders  AAU basketball teams, operated two booths, one for food and one for beer, in its first year at Lambeau.

"There is more to it than you think; behind the scenes work," said Adam Maulick, founder and director. "It was a little bit more than we estimated, but it makes sense why everything has to be done."

Lambeau income accounted for about 15 percent of their annual budget. They need about 32 people to keep the two stands humming and look to partner with another organization this year to make it easier on their own volunteers.

"A lot of times, organizations get the same people that step forward. They do get burned out a little bit," Maulick said.

Katers, who is in her 20th year at Lambeau, said she was ready to quit after her first year, but group members told her put on her big-girl pants. Now, "I love everything about it. I like the fast-paced work. I like the people I work with. The customers are fantastic."

Calvary Lutheran uses its money to fund youth league accounts and for adult mission projects.

Volunteers work five to six hours for most games. Leaders work longer, often coming in the day before as well. Leaders also get additional training.

"We make it as easy as possible to get in the building, earn your money and go home," Millerwise said.

Green Bay Exchange Club is one of the smaller groups working at the stadium. The club has 35 members and needs 14 on game days.

"The challenge is always getting enough volunteers," Larson said.

Group members work because they are dedicated to their cause, which is child abuse prevention. They've supported Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin, Willow Tree Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center and other programs that support children and students. Lambeau work and their annual RibFest provide the funding.

While Exchange Club has worked at Lambeau since the beginning, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College student senate was a first-time participant.

"Somebody suggested we work with Delaware North and the Packers and it got voted down," Chris Morse said. "I convinced some of my friend to help me out with the first game. We did so well we went from 20 people to 30 people on average."

The students donated money to a wide range of causes, including Eye Heart World, Altrusa House, Rawhide Boys Ranch, Cerebral Palsy and more.

"When you tell them you are doing it for a good cause and not just for grades, people tend to do a little bit more," Morse said. "Some of the funds went back into campus to clubs starving for resources. That helped me gain some support. Afterwards, you can see all the good you are doing."

The downside, he said, was night games before school days.

Hand of Hope's Galske, too, said knowing they are making a difference motivates people to volunteer.

"They feel like they are part of something, that they made a difference," she said. "The money doesn't go to the people working. they are really sacrificing."

Contact rryman@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @RichRymanPG, onInstagram at rrymanpgor on Facebook at Richard Ryman-Press-Gazette. Or call him at (920) 431-8342.

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