Free meals for veterans and military is just part of Covelli Enterprises’ deep commitment to service members

Free meals for veterans and military is just part of Covelli Enterprises’ deep commitment to service members


Covelli Enterprises saluted those in uniform with free meals on Monday, November 12 in observance of Veterans Day in its participating Panera Bread locations across all eight states where it operates restaurants. The company has made it an annual tradition since 2011 to honor all veterans and military service members in this way and has given away nearly 150,000 free You Pick Two® meals since it began.

To participate, service members and veterans needed to only wear their uniform or show their valid military I.D. or discharge papers at participating Covelli-owned Panera Bread locations. The company honored free meals for veterans within its Dairy Queen and O’Charley’s restaurants, as well.

“Not a day goes by that we don’t remember those who have fought to give us the freedoms we enjoy as Americans,” said Sam Covelli, Owner/Operator of Covelli Enterprises. “This is simply a small gesture of gratitude to those men and women who have sacrificed so much for those freedoms, and from the bottom of our hearts, we thank all veterans and service members for their dedication to our country.”

Covelli Enterprises’ support for veterans groups is not limited to food donations on Veterans Day. The organization supports organizations like American Red Cross, National Air Force Museum & Marathon, Veterans Affairs Hospitals, Disabled American Veterans, The Freedom Warrior Charitable Fund, Military Order of the Purple Heart, U.S. Marine Corp Foundation Toys for Tots, Wags 4 Warriors, Northeast Ohio Foundation for Patriotism, Wounded Warrior Support Foundation, Wounded Warriors of South Florida, Mission United, United Military Care, and various local VFW Posts in the form of monetary and product donations throughout the year. In various markets, Covelli Enterprises representatives deliver free food to patients at the VA hospitals several times a year, and in others, our organization sponsors programs that offer free haircuts or free custom-made suits for returning military service members to ease their transition back to civilian life.

But as a society, we have become all-too-aware of the challenges of that transition, and it is clear that a free meal or a new haircut may not be enough to overcome all of them.

A staggering 22 veterans commit suicide each day, a number that Project Welcome Home Troops, an organization dedicated to teaching coping methods to returned soldiers, is working to decrease. Covelli Enterprises’ passion for supporting veterans led to a partnership with Project Welcome Home Troops that began several years ago and resulted in Covelli Enterprises raising nearly $60,000 to bring several workshops to Ohio, enough to reach 400 veterans with the group’s emerging, and potentially life-saving, coping tools.

Project Welcome Home Troops’ workshops involve using practical breath-based tools to decrease the stress, anxiety, and sleep problems commonly experienced by veterans and service members. The Power Breath Meditation Workshop, as it is called, is an interactive, mind-body resilience building program that uses a set of rhythmic breathing patterns to bring deep mental and physical relaxation and build a framework for empowerment, self-awareness, connectedness to community as well as a positive outlook. The best part is – it is actually making adifference in many veterans’ lives.

Army veteran of the Iraq war, Tom Voss, was deployed in 2004 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. While in Iraq, Tom participated in hundreds of combat missions, convoys, security patrols, raids, area clearance operations, and humanitarian relief operations including providing security for the first democratic elections in Iraq since the invasion. Tom also conducted several scout sniper missions with the 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment), the Army’s most elite helicopter unit. Voss was honored to be selected for these responsibilities, but when he left the Army in 2006 and returned to civilian life, many of the experiences continued to negatively affect his well-being.

“[I] have been in the depths of my own hell and back dealing with PTS for more than 10 years,” Voss said. “It was the Power Breath Meditation that brought me back.”

Voss now serves as an advocate for Project Welcome Home Troops and their Power Breath Meditation Workshops.

The positive effects of this type of integrated health approach are far-reaching beyond the obvious relief it provides to veterans and their families. Utilizing these alternative treatments for PTSD and traumatic brain injury is less expensive than many medications prescribed, and over-prescribed, to veterans who continue to struggle with depression and insomnia. These coping methods are gaining in popularity on both sides of the aisle in Washington for that reason.

Representative Tim Ryan (D- Ohio) said of these coping techniques, “It’s time for legislators to learn about it because it hits all the buttons – it is helping the veterans, it’s low-cost, it’s low-tech, and there are no side effects… if that doesn’t cross partisan lines, I don’t know what’s going to.”

In addition to monetary support, Panera Bread also provided free food for the veterans and their families during the workshops. Leslye Moore, Director of Program Development for Project Welcome Home Troops, says food is an important way for workshop participants to socialize and connect.

“With veterans, so many of them self-isolate and some also don’t often take the time to take care of their bodies and eat healthy food,” Moore said. “The workshops help expose them to new and healthier ways of eating, but most importantly, the food helps them bond as a group. [It] helps to draw them out of their shells and into conversation.”

Moore recounted a story of a Vietnam veteran at one workshop where they were having a family-style meal prepared by volunteers for all of the participants. She said, “He had tears streaming down his face and said that this was the first time since he came back that he felt welcomed home. We never underestimate the power of food in our workshops.”

Covelli Enterprises uses Veterans Day as an opportunity to give all veterans and military service men and women that same feeling.

“We welcome all veterans and active duty service members to our restaurants to enjoy a meal, share their stories, and feel appreciated for all they have done for the rest of us,” said Sam Covelli. “Our commitment to honoring their service will continue in all the ways we support veterans organizations throughout the year in the communities we serve.”

Covelli Enterprises continues to seek ways to give back to military organizations and veterans in need. The company’s support for these groups has exceeded $1.4 million in food and monetary donations since 2011.