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It could be wurst

NEWARK – Michael Brummer of Tenafly figures he had his 15 minutes of fame back in May. That’s when the phone was ringing off the hook, with television, radio and print reporters in hot pursuit. He and his brother, Marc, a Livingston resident, appeared on talk shows and their picture even appeared with a story in The New York Times. The reason for all the fuss was that the brothers, co-owners of the famed Hobby’s Delicatessen & Restaurant here, had made news with their first shipment in "Operation Salami Drop." Two thousand one-pound salamis — that’s two tons worth — were on their way to the reservists in the 4’nd Infantry Division, serving in Tikrit, Iraq.

The division’s tour is ending and the men and women of the 4’nd are headed home. But 3,000 more salamis are still in the pipeline, drying out all over Hobby’s, in preparation for shipment. And while the attention from the mainstream media has died down, the Brummer brothers say that "Operation Salami Drop" is far from over. They aim to expand their outreach to reservists serving in Iraq and are awaiting word from their contact at Fort Drum, N.Y., home to the 4’nd, to find out where to send the next batch of salamis.

What began last winter with a single care package to lift the spirits of Michael’s college roommate, Michael Rothman, a captain in the 4’nd, a unit of the National Guard, soon turned into a massive drive to supply the entire division with salamis as a show of support for the troops. In January, after Rothman was deployed, "I sent him five salamis and a box of black & whites [cookies]," recalled Michael Brummer. Rothman shared the food with his buddies, the next day e-mailing Brummer with a "thank you" from everyone in the office. "I showed my brother the e-mail and said to him, ‘What about the other guys?’"

Marc Brummer agreed, and "Operation Salami Drop" was launched, inspired also by the brothers’ recollection of hearing from their father, Sam, about salami shipments he received when he served in Europe during World War II.

With the help of hundreds of area residents who have supported the effort with donations and this city’s North Branch of the U.S. Postal Service, which has assisted with packing and shipping, the Brummers have shipped 11,000 salamis to date. That took care of nearly half of the 4’nd’s ‘3,000 service personnel, many of whom come from New Jersey and New York. Others hail from as far away as Tennessee, Idaho, Montana, and Georgia.

"The troops over there need to know they are supported. It’s not a political statement," Brummer said. "It [the salamis] brightens their day, and [helps them] forget they’re in Iraq."

The Brummers have decided to concentrate on reservists rather than on enlisted troops, who "always know they might have to fight." By contrast, said Brummer, reservists are "weekend warriors" who didn’t necessarily anticipate seeing military action when they originally signed up. "These are the guys who march in parades," Brummer noted, adding that they have nonetheless stepped up to the plate, "willing to do anything" the overseas assignment has entailed.

Meanwhile, the donations — $10 covers the cost of buying and shipping just one salami — keep pouring in. Hobby’s customers have been incredibly responsive to the yellow fliers they find on the tables when they come in to eat. And a Website the Brummers established — www.operationsalamidrop.com — continues to take in funds. Some $75,000 has been raised so far, with many checks in amounts greater than $10, Brummer said. A promotional offer has further boosted online fund-raising. For $100, supporters receive a T-shirt emblazoned with the "Operation Salami Drop" logo. One hundred twenty-five T-shirts have already been sold. The spirit of the drive has also caught on in the corporate community. Just last week, said Brummer, a company in Morris Plains held a fund-raiser, sending Hobby’s a check for $’00.

The brothers have found that people are looking for a way to connect with the troops in a personal fashion. Many, said Brummer, include letters of appreciation, along with their checks. The Brummers pack all correspondence in with the salamis.

At the same time, those on the receiving end have been so moved that a handful have even made detours to Hobby’s on leaves home to thank the brothers in person. "One guy was just off the plane, walking around Newark. We introduced him in the dining room, and everyone gave a big cheer," said Brummer. "I can think of a million things I’d rather do if I had a couple of weeks off from serving — sleep, for one — than take the time to come in here."

And the arrival in Iraq of each shipment of salamis spawns a fresh batch of letters and emails. North Caldwell resident Wayne Wolverton, a 1974 graduate of Passaic Valley High School, reflected the sentiments of many when he emailed:

"Thanks very much for the salami," he wrote. "That’s very generous of you, and very much appreciated. I think you guys are doing a terrific service to the troops here.… The cold cuts provided here at the mess halls are not exactly what you would find in a decent deli. The majority of the folks in my unit are from the New York-New Jersey area; you can be sure they’ll appreciate it when I follow your Dad’s example and share it among them."

To contribute to "Operation Salami Drop," go to www.operationsalamidrop.com. Checks can be sent to Hobby’s Delicatessen & Restaurant, 3′ Branford Place, Newark, NJ 0710′. The minimum donation is $10.

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