A Hastings non-profit continues to grow well beyond its founder's wildest dreams.
Defending the Blue Line is a Hastings-based organization that began as a way to provide used hockey equipment to the children of military families.
Now, the organization is raising money to send those youths to summer camps. In addition, branches are opening up in other states and the group is spreading into other sports, too.
"It has been a continuous whirlwind adventure here at Defending the Blue Line," said Shane Hudella last week. "There's been a lot of travel. I feel like I haven't sat down since December."
Hudella has traveled to Afghanistan. He went to the Commander in Chief's Ball in Washington, D.C. He's been to South Bend, Ind., and San Jose, Calif. He was back in Washington, D.C., last week at a Capitols game and is in Ohio this week for another fundraiser.
"It's amazing how much it has grown," Hudella said. "My office is a disaster every single day. There's so much going on. It's a great problem to have.
"I'm so impressed with everybody's generosity. I think people have a soft spot for military kids, just knowing some of the challenges that their parents face."
Hudella is adding baseball as another sport his firm will help with, too. He has worked with the Washington Nationals and players Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen, who will be doing fundraising this year for the baseball arm of the organization.
Defending the Blue Line offers grants to youths who need money for summer camps, or winter programs. For the fall season, there was $100,000 in grant requests that came through, and the organization had just $50,000 available to donate.
"We started providing benefits nationwide, and there was an explosion of requests," Hudella said. "We just couldn't fund them all. We ended up funding about half of those requests.
"I'd like to be able to take care of every single kid out there. That's why we're in this big push right now. We're trying to build that budget so that the next time around we can take care of every kid that needs help."
Twice a year, grant recipients get $500 in cash, meaning each athlete gets $1,000.
The grant requests are prioritized. Children who have a family member who has been killed or wounded in action are the first priority. Then, those whose parents have a lower rank are next, as their parents don't make as much money.
Some of the fundraisers have really helped out, including a pair of jersey auctions that were held recently. The University of Notre Dame team auctioned off its game-worn jerseys back in December, and that raised $18,000. An anonymous donor matched $15,000 of that.
Just a few weeks ago, the University of Minnesota auctioned off its game-worn jerseys from the Hockey City Classic outdoor game, and $25,000 was raised through that auction.
"That was an incredible gift," Hudella said. "Hats off to the U of M - they've become a great partner of ours.
"When you look at those two events, that's $50,000 raised for us. That puts a huge dent in that grant budget."
Hudella said he's expecting that by the time April comes around, grants requests will total about $100,000 again.
Corporate sponsorships from places like Polaris and Gander Mountain are helping, too.
The firm's initial mission, to simply supply equipment, is being met.
"This year ... it seemed like every hockey association in Minnesota did a gear drive for us," Hudella said. "We got a lot of nice, gently-used gear."
In addition, the National Hockey League's Player's Association supplies equipment, too.