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Army family honored by NASCAR driver Aric Almirola

Army Sgt. Ralph Harroff and his family would have never suspected that a Friday afternoon shopping trip to a Kroger in Fort Worth would turn into the surprise of a lifetime.

But that’s just what the family of three received when Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, raced through the parking lot, jumped out of the famed racecar and treated them to an all-expenses paid shopping spree inside the grocery store.

The surprise was part of the Eckrich’s “Operation Inspiration” campaign which supports and honors military families.

Once inside, Almirola directed Harroff and his wife to the meat aisle, where he loaded the family’s shopping cart with plenty of Eckrich smoked sausage. Almirola then led the family and their young daughter around the store, picking out other essential items.

As Almirola led the family through check-out, he had one more surprise: authentic Eckrich racing crew uniforms and an invitation to be special guests of Eckrich and Richard Petty Motorsports at the following Sunday’s NASCAR race at the Texas Motor Speedway, where they would receive VIP treatment along with the opportunity to watch the race from atop the Eckrich pit box.

Almirola’s generosity didn’t stop there, however, as he then presented the family with $430 worth of Kroger gift cards for future shopping trips.

“This is really what ‘Operation Inspiration’ is all about,” said Charles Gitkin, vice president, marketing, innovation and R&D for the John Morrell Food Group. “It’s families like these that inspire us to honor and assist them, and give them an experience they will never forget.”

Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit which provides emergency financial and other assistance to the families of service members and wounded warriors, provided the family with a place to live after Harroff had suffered a long-term injury during his deployment to Afghanistan in 2009. Harroff and his wife were also expecting their new daughter at the time of his injury.

Eckrich, part of the John Morrell Food Group, decided to honor and assist the military family after hearing what happened to Harroff.

Almirola, a husband and father of two young children and who was born on an Air Force base, said that providing for the Harroff family meant a lot to him considering the sacrifices the family has made for their country.

“This is a family that I can really relate with,” said Almirola. “Growing up in a military family, and now being a father myself, I can understand the sacrifices the Harroff family has made. It makes me feel good that I can work with Eckrich to help honor and give back to military families.

“I know we put a smile on their faces today and hopefully we helped them out with some of their needs, including a lot of Eckrich smoked sausage and other groceries, and we will show them a great time at the track this Sunday.”

Now in its third year of partnership with Operation Homefront, Eckrich has already donated more than a half a million dollars to the organization, and will donate up to $250,000 this year through the contribution of five cents from each purchase of specially marked products from May 1 through July 4.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Harroff said after the event. “It’s something that I’ll never forget. Operation Homefront has done so much for our family already, but to have Eckrich and Aric Almirola give us a shopping spree for my family, and to invite us to be a part of the race team this weekend, it means a lot. There are so many deserving military families, I just feel lucky to be honored like this.”

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