Our Towns

Covelli Enterprises Honors Toys for Tots Tradition

WARREN, Ohio – When he was growing up, U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jeremy Lehman’s parents registered every year with Toys for Tots to make sure he had a package beneath the Christmas tree. Now, as he participates in the nationwide campaign, he counts his blessings. 

“Obviously, growing up as a kid, you don’t know where the toys came from,” Lehman says. “Giving back to the same organization that gave to us, you can’t put words to that.” 

As Marines gathered in front of a table surrounded by bicycles, toy trucks and cars, dolls, stuffed animals, Play-Doh and makeup kits at the Elm Road Panera Bread in Warren, they were presented with a $15,000 check from Covelli Enterprises.

Sam Covelli, owner of Covelli Enterprises, and his family believe in giving back to the community, says Ashlee Mauti, director of marketing. 

“For a lot of families, they don’t have the luxury of having gifts under the tree and helping out by giving a small monetary donation to ensure those children have a nice Christmas is really how it started,” Mauti says. “The Covelli family is proud to continue that tradition.”

Since 1947, Toys for Tots has collected and distributed nearly 525 million toys and donations are still being received. The $15,000 from Covelli Enterprises will fund toys for children living inMahoning and Trumbull counties. The company, which operates Panera Bread, O’Charley’s and Dairy Queen franchises in eight states, is the largest local contributor to the cause. 

For the past three years, Toys for Tots has been something Sgt. Gregory Peterkin has looked forward to, he says. The first time Peterkin participated in Toys for Tots, he was shocked by the outpouring of support and donations, he recalls. As the years went on, Peterkin never saw the support dwindle. 

“We have one local partner who collects bicycles every year,” Peterkin says. “I believe the first year I was here, they had around 150 bicycles. Last year they had 300 and this year there were 400. It’s the same story with all of our local partners.” 

With only seven Marines working on the program to cover Trumbull and Mahoning counties, local distribution centers such as churches, food banks and Mahoning County Children Services play a key role in Toys for Tots. After the Marines coordinate with staff at the distribution centers, they bring them the toys to distribute to parents, Peterkin says. 

“Unfortunately we don’t get to have that direct connection with the families, but the distribution centers we work with are great organizations,” he says.

All employees at Covelli’s headquarters in Warren bought toys to donate this year, which added up to more than $1,000 in value, according to Mauti. 

“You see the magic in [a child’s] eyes when they open up a gift,” she says. “That means a lot to them and they should experience the same thing that akids they’re going to school with. It’s nice they’re going to have something.” 

Toys for Tots was started by U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Maj. Bill Hendricks in Los Angeles. Many of the first toys donated were handcrafted. In 1948, the group partnered with Warner Bros. to take the campaign nationwide.

Last year, 30,000 toys were given to 10,000 children and their families locally, and the impact is “phenomenal,” said Sgt. William Sartor. 

“It’s rewarding,” he says. “If that’s the only thing that I got out of any of my Christmases, I would continue to do it for the rest of my life because these children deserve the best.” 

Pictured: Ashlee Mauti from Covelli Enterprises presents $15,000 to U.S. Marine Corps members Sgt. Gregory Peterkin, Sgt. William Sartor and Staff Sgt. Jeremy Lehman. 

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.