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Covelli Deploys Dollars for Marines’ Toys for Tots

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WARREN, Ohio – As soldiers from the U.S. Marine Corps and employees from Covelli Enterprises gathered at the Niles Toys R Us to pick out toys for kids across the Mahoning Valley, it was a meeting of two different worlds.

“It was done in a pure Marine fashion,” said Ashlee Mauti, director of marketing for Covelli.

She detailed how workers for the fast casual franchisee were teamed up with the Marines from the Youngstown Air Reserve Station and split into groups searching for toys for each age group, both boys and girls, as part of the annual Toys for Tots campaign.

“What they do is unbelievable. We got to see them in action,” she continued. “It was a lot of work boxing everything up but this is important to them. They rally behind it.”

That day, the group bought nearly $30,000 worth of toys to be sent out across Mahoning and Trumbull counties to Toys for Tots distribution sites. In total, said Sgt. Jeremy Lehman, the Marines at the air station have purchased just short of 18,000 individual toys for some 6,000 kids.

Friday morning at the Covelli-owned Panera Bread on Elm Road in Warren, Mauti presented a check for $15,000 to Lehman from Covelli Enterprises to support the foundation.

“This time of year can be difficult for many families. Many of the families we work with are unemployed or single-parents. The fact that we get all this money donated to us to help these families,” he said, pausing. “Without what the Covellis do for us and without how the community rallies around us, we wouldn’t be able to spread holiday cheer to these families that need help.”

After the toys are purchased, they’re taken back to the base and sorted by gender and age group. When local groups tell the Marines how many they need of each, they’re then boxed up and delivered to groups like the Salvation Army for families to come in and pick up.

Almost all of the distribution for this year are done Lehman said. The remainder of toys, including some set up as part of a display at the Panera, are then taken back to YARS and given out as needed, usually to local shelters for the homeless or victims of abuse or to fire stations to give to children whose homes have burned down.

“They don’t sit gathering dust. These toys are used year-round,” he said.

For Lehman, a Cincinnati native who arrived in the Mahoning Valley in August, this is his first time taking part in Toys for Tots. When he was at the main branch of the Youngstown Salvation Army on Glenwood Avenue earlier this week, what he experienced is something that he won’t lose.

“So many them come up with tears in their eyes and thanking us for what we do. It’s a feeling that I won’t forget and for the other Marines, here and around the country, it’s an honor for us,” he said.

This year marks the 69th year of Toys for Tots. Started by U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Maj. Bill Hendricks in Los Angeles, many of the first toys distributed were handmade. A year later, in 1948, the group joined with Warner Bros. to take the campaign nationwide and, to date, Toys for Tots has collected more than 512 million toys.

“Not many nonprofits make it [this far] and have the outcomes that they do every year. It’s an honor for us to help the families and the children of the area,” Lehman said. “It’s a privilege.”

For more than 30 years, Sam and Caryn Covelli have been donating to Toys for Tots, Mauti said, and their giving spirit has made its way into their company’s culture.

“It’s important to us because we’re headquartered and we want to support organizations our customers care about,” she said. “And certainly at Christmastime, providing toys to kids is near and dear to our hearts. Everyone should give if they can and that’s the legacy Mr. Covelli has established.”

Pictured: Marine Corps Sgt. Jeremy Lehman and Covelli Enterprises Director of Marketing Ashlee Mauti with a $15,000 check to support Toys for Tots.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.