AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Erwin Ballarta protected governors and trained thousands of troopers in his career with the Texas Department of Public Safety. He’s proud of that but it’s his newest venture that he’s perhaps most prideful of.

A week into 2020, Ballarta launched True Blue Texas Coffee Company with one goal in mind: to help the families of fallen first responders. He was inspired after talking with the widow of Trooper Moises Sanchez, who was shot in the head while responding to a traffic stop in April in the Rio Grande Valley. He died four months later.

Erwin Ballarta DPS True Blue Coffee
Retired DPS Trooper Erwin Ballarta holds a bag of his True Blue Coffee Company ground coffee on Jan. 31, 2020. Profits from the venture benefit families of fallen first responders. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

“When you do a fundraising event, it’s just a one-time thing and so what I wanted to do is focus on developing something that would be sustainable, that would be continuous,” Ballarta, who spent more than a quarter century as a Big Spring police officer and DPS trooper, said.

Ballarta worked with roasters to craft medium blend Breakfast Strength 10-8 (the law enforcement code for “in service” or “ready to go”) and Patrol Strong, a medium dark blend.

A team of spouses of fallen officers will give the proceeds to affected families. Cynthia Vetter’s husband Randy, a DPS trooper, was shot and killed during a traffic stop in 2000. Michele Kelley’s husband Chris was a Hutto Police detective. He died after he was hit by a suspect he was trying to apprehend in 2015. Michaela Burns’ husband Scott was a DPS trooper who was shot and killed by a driver he pulled over in 2008. All three spouses will take the lead on distributing the money to the families.

Ballarta, who now serves as executive director of the Texas Police Association and runs his own private security group, said by involving other first-responder families in the financial delivery process, he can ensure the money will stay in Texas and benefit families on the Lone Star State.

“It irks me and it hurts me to think that businesses will say they support law enforcement and you know less than 1% or zero gets to the family that needs it,” Ballarta said of the attempts by some to take advantage of vulnerable families.

Ballarta’s endeavor is not the only effort in the state to support law enforcement families. Lubbock police officer Nicholas Reyna and Lubbock Department Lieutenant Eric Hill died at the scene of a crash when they were hit by a truck earlier this month. The crash sent firefighter Matt Dawson to the hospital. Communities across West Texas organized fundraisers at local businesses, and the local police and firefighter associations created a shirt to raise money for the families of the three first responders.

“It’s an absolute privilege to serve this community and we are humbled and overwhelmed with all the support we’ve been receiving – and just keep giving the support and we’ll still be there,” firefighter Tyler Henderson said.

With additional profits, Ballarta hopes to launch programs for youth named after fallen first responders.

“Trooper Moises Sanchez would coach baseball, football, flag football, did martial arts and volunteered at church and using his own money saved up so he could give back to the Boys and Girls Club,” Ballarta said, sharing that he wants to “continue on their legacy of good character ethics from these troopers, from these officers.”

“To me, I’m not selling coffee,” Ballarta said. “I’m selling an idea that we can be better, that we could make Texas better and keep it better.”

When asked about Ballarta’s efforts, the Texas Department of Public Safety released a statement:

Our fallen officers dedicated their lives to protecting others and made the ultimate sacrifice. While we can never repay them or their loved ones, the department appreciates and commends any efforts to support the families of fallen officers.