Coffee care packages from Cottonwood Heights' Alpha Coffee fueling the troops
Nov 18, 2019 01:10PM
By Josh Wood
Deployed troops enjoy coffee donated by Alpha Coffee. (Photo courtesy of Carl Churchill)
By Joshua Wood | [email protected]
Cottonwood Heights entrepreneur Carl Churchill decided to use his business to serve the local community and to help his fellow veterans. In addition to supporting local charities, Alpha Coffee has sent over 17,000 bags of coffee to deployed troops.
“I deployed a half dozen times and always drank really crappy coffee,” Churchill said. “So I thought getting some coffee from back home would be a really nice care package.”
Churchill and his wife, Lori, started an online coffee distribution company in 2010. As the business gained momentum, they opened their Cottonwood Heights coffee shop in June 2017. The business quickly established itself, which has enabled them to use some of the proceeds to support local organizations that serve veterans.
“We love Cottonwood Heights, and we’ve got a very loyal following among locals and we have vets from all over the valley,” Churchill said. “If you’re going to be a business owner, you should use your success to better society, to better your community.”
Alpha Coffee has an application process for troops to apply for coffee packages. Thanks to word of mouth among deployed troops, the care packages have become popular. Once they apply online, Alpha Coffee reviews the request and then sends out as many donations as it can afford. Veterans Day and the holidays keep them busy.
“Especially this time of year, we call it leaning forward in the foxhole,” Churchill said. “We’re sending out more than we can really afford to because you’ve got Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s where you’re away from home, you’re in a combat zone, you’re working seven days a week. Getting that taste of home makes a huge difference.”
While the coffee packages have grown enormously popular with troops, the Churchills’ support of local charities has helped veterans and the community closer to home as well. Organizations they help include Continue Mission, Veteran Expeditions and Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife (VETPAW), which provides training to park rangers in Africa on how to protect endangered species from poachers.
Helping veterans establish themselves in business, Warrior Rising offers opportunities for veterans and their immediate family members to launch sustainable businesses. They encourage the hiring of veterans to perpetuate the program’s impact.
The organization offers mentoring and training for veteran entrepreneurs. Local business people can volunteer their services as mentors. Warrior Rising has also hosted a series of Shark Tank–inspired events to give veterans the chance to pitch their business ideas to a group of potential investors. A participant in this year’s event, which took place just before Veterans Day, received the largest investment offer in the program’s history.
“We’re really proud of the numbers of veterans we help,” said Ken Vennera, Warrior Rising’s programming committee chair. “We help them with starting a business, overcoming obstacles, so they can earn their future.”
Heroes and Horses
Another organization, Heroes and Horses, provides equine and outdoor therapy opportunities for veterans. “We’ve spoken with a couple vets who have been through the program and they said, ‘this saved my life,’” Churchill said. “They literally had a handgun on the table and a bottle of whiskey and were about to take the next step when they found out that they had been accepted into this program and decided to give it one last try.”
Racing Anxiety is a nonprofit organization based in Spanish Fork with outreach programs in the Salt Lake valley to help veterans and students overcome mental illness and injuries through involvement in the automotive industry. “They take vets and students and give them leadership skills and connect them with any available resources they qualify for,” said Racing Anxiety Executive Director Tapley Mitchell. “Our main goal is preventing suicide and giving purpose to those who need it.”
Mitchell returned from his service in the Navy feeling that he couldn’t relate to others around him. He felt isolated until he was invited to help build hot rods for racing events when he was a student at Utah Valley University. “I knew the other students wouldn’t relate to what I’d been through, but being part of a group and applying my skills is what saved me,” Mitchell said. Now he offers similar opportunities to other veterans in the area.
Vets Serving Vets
That ethos of vets serving vets is what drives people like Churchill and Mitchell. “With the latest conflicts, veterans came back and decided that we’re going to take care of our own,” Churchill said. “If we have brothers and sisters in arms that are in pain, that are suffering, that are trying to reintegrate, then we need to reach out and help them. That’s what a lot of the charities that we support do.”
For Churchill, that spirit of service extended to the local community as well. He sources as many of his products locally as he can, from local bakeries and chocolates to even getting their Alpha Coffee ceramic mugs made by a local artisan.
“We want to be good citizens, good members of the community,” Churchill said. “Owning a business in the community we live in, it really makes a big difference to us. When you support local, you’re supporting your community more.”
Community support of veteran charities and businesses was cited by Churchill, Vennera and Mitchell as ways for people to show their appreciation of veterans. “It’s kind of become cliché when people say thank you for your service,” Churchill said. “I did 21 years and multiple combat tours, and I certainly appreciate it, but if you really want to do something, support veteran-owned businesses and veteran charities. Come out to the Pat Tillman Run. If you’re in Cottonwood Heights, come out and do it. It’s a great way to support veterans.”
The annual Pat Tillman Run is planned for next April. Helping to host the Cottonwood Heights extension of the event is another way for Churchill and other veterans in the area to serve their fellow vets. For them, it’s being part of a tribe.
Members of that tribe, deployed throughout the world, have shown their gratitude. Photos of troops posing with bags of Alpha Coffee have come from Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond. Churchill keeps a wall of photos from grateful troops on display at Alpha Coffee. The images show what it has meant to the Churchills. It’s about vets serving vets, about understanding and belonging.
“It’s all about supporting the veteran community and the local community,” Churchill said.