BY MITCH MAERSCH Ozaukee Press
Tom Stanton started by helping a bereft friend. Now he runs Mel’s Charities of Grafton, raising amazing amounts of money for causes only in Ozaukee County
Tom Stanton doesn’t have an inspirational story to tell. He’s got a list of them.
After 19 years of philanthropy in Ozaukee County, Grafton-based Mel’s Charities will have topped the million-dollar mark by the end of this year.
“It’s humbling,” Stanton said.
But to him, it’s a number that will continue to grow.
“If we can continue to tell our story in a way that it’s easy to understand, we’re just getting started,” he said.
The story of Stanton’s original initiative started on a small scale.
In 1995, one of Stanton’s friends lost his sister to cancer. She was the mother of a special needs daughter, and an idea came to Stanton during an annual gathering of about 50 buddies at Cedars III Bowling Center in Cedarburg to watch a Green Bay Packers game.
“Halfway through the party, it dawned on me we should do something,” Stanton said.
Stanton got two mini-helmets signed by Packers’ legends Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor from his car and raffled them off.
After the game, he surprised his friend, Blaine Bergmann, with $350 for the Special Olympics.
That gathering of buddies has turned into an event called Mel’s Pig Roat. The 19th annual version of it last September drew roughly 1,000 people who paid an admission charge to attend and required a 6,000-square-foot tent.
Stanton, nicknamed “Mel,” has since limited his full-time job as a promotional products salesman and become the executive director and only paid staff member of Mel’s Charities.
“I really, truly don’t look at it as a job,” he said. “It’s my passion.”
Stanton found others share similar passions are aren’t afraid to write checks.
After a speech at the Cedarburg-Grafton Rotary Club four years ago, a man approached Stanton and asked him to make a call to someone who is starting a nonprofit organization for his son who had just died.
The man, who asked to remain anonymous, also gave Mel’s Charities $1,000. Then came $2,500, and then $5,000.
Stanton recently bumped into him at Muttland Meadows in Grafton, where Stanton regularly takes Duncan, his Airedale Terrier. The man, once the owner of an Airedale himself, inquired about the breed.
And then he asked how he can donate $10,000. A matching fund drive was established through Dec. 15.
Stanton was blown away. “Why us?” he asked.
“He said, ‘You’re different.’”
One thing that sets Mel’s Charities apart is its structure.
“The beauty of this whole thing — 100% of the net proceeds goes out,” Stanton said.
Knowing “we can’t be everything to everybody,” Stanton said Mel’s Charities focuses its efforts on special needs, memorial scholarships and human services organizations.
Donations only go to groups in Ozaukee County.
“We always say what we raise here stays here,” Stanton said.
One donation of $75,000 went to All My Friends Playground in Grafton.
“If it’s something we believe in and we’ve got the money, boom, done,” he said.
A native of Cleveland who moved to Green Bay during his freshman year of high school, Stanton said he was raised to respect people. His father always taught him to treat the truck driver like the owner of the company, and to treat his next-door neighbor with special needs just like anyone else.
Stanton had friends in Ozaukee County and fell in love with the area, finally moving to the Town of Cedarburg in 1986. The connections from his youth later came back to bless his passion, from near and far.
Stanton’s college roommate, Jamie Trenter, has lived in Portland for more than 20 years but bequeathed $250,000 in his will to Mel’s Charities.
In Green Bay, the president of Associated Bank in Green Bay lived across the street. The man’s son followed Stanton’s efforts and once called him out of the blue.
“‘Where can I overnight a $10,000 check?’” he asked.
That night, the two talked for 90 minutes. The man asked how the organization will sustain itself. Stanton told him he had already scheduled a meeting with donors in Port Washington.
“He said, ‘I’ll be there,’” Stanton said. “He lives in Cary, North Carolina.”
The 300 Fund Team was established to cover administrative costs for Mel’s Charities.
Events have expanded to a golf outing, run/walk, softball tournament and more.
In a world where it counts to know someone who knows someone who knows someone, Stanton seems to be never more than two degrees from people looking to help.
At the annual one-pitch, wooden-bat softball tournament, people throwing out the first pitch are asked to say how Mel’s Charities impacted their lives. Mike Hogan, a 2017 Grafton High School graduate who received the Achievement Award in Memory of Jan Schanen — to which Mel’s Charities donates — told Stanton he knows his father. The two played softball together for years.
Hogan’s father said he was looking for a place to donate 1,000 pairs of new jeans he had through his job. Stanton connected him to a homeless organization in Milwaukee.
That follows Stanton’s philosophy that if his organization can’t use a donation he will pass it along to another nonprofit.
“People contact us because they know it goes right to the source,” he said.
Donations come in other forms as well. Plenty of people want to help don’t have financial means “but will run through a wall for us,” Stanton said.
“If you get up every morning and impact a person’s life in a positive way, it’s a good day,” he said.
Even Stanton’s furry friend has provided positive impact. He met a grant writer at the dog park and others who have been impacted by his organization. Stanton often plays dumb and then reveals who he is, causing one beneficiary to burst into tears.
Knowing he has been blessed by God’s grace, Stanton doesn’t take himself too seriously and focuses on people having fun at events. He continues to be in awe of where Mel’s Charities has been and where it’s going.
“It’s amazing what can be accomplished,” he said.
For more information on Mel’s Charities or the matching fund drive, visit www.melscharities.org.