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Economy & Business

Why a Metro East coffee company is donating half its profits to veterans’ families

Brian Lester, a 6-year U.S. Navy veteran and founder of Smithton-based company Commitment Coffee, poses for a portrait on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in St. Louis. The coffee company was founded to help provide scholarships to the children of fallen heroes as well as those who are severely disabled as a result of their military service.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Brian Lester, a six-year U.S. Navy veteran and founder of Smithton-based company Commitment Coffee, poses for a portrait in St. Louis. The coffee company was founded to help provide scholarships to the children of fallen heroes as well as those who are severely disabled as a result of their military service.

The loss of a friend during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2002 inspired a Smithton, Illinois, coffee company owner’s business approach.

Commitment Coffee donates 50% of its profits to help with the college expenses for children of veterans who have died or were severely wounded in action.

“Having a little bit of a safety net, you know, with organizations that can help to offset some of those post-secondary expenses is really important,” said founder Brian Lester.

The idea goes back to Jan. 9, 2002. That’s when one of Lester’s best friends, Marine Capt. Matthew “Burney” Bancroft and six others died.

Bancroft was piloting an aircraft that went down in Pakistan.

Lester met him years earlier at the U.S. Naval Academy and the two hit it off. “Kind of one of those people that you want your son to be, your daughter to grow up and want to be with,” Lester recalled. “He always had a cynical, wry little smile because he was probably playing a prank on three people in the group that didn’t even know they were having a prank played on them at the time.”

Bancroft and his wife had a daughter a few months before the aircraft went down. Lester and others spent the next 18 years putting aside money for the girl’s college fund.

Now, he’s set up a business to help other military families meet their children’s education goals.

“It’s kind of supporting those who defend us,” Lester said.

The effort is in its initial stages, just like the company that launched with a web store in May 2020.

That was early in the pandemic, and Lester said his startup benefited from more people working from home and using delivery services as they adjusted to COVID-19 life. It’s enabled Commitment Coffee to build a solid customer base in the Metro East.

The support allows Lester to continue his goal of helping military families and honor the memory of one of his best friends, whom he thinks about throughout the year, not just on Memorial Day or Veterans Day.

Some of Bancroft’s other military friends also help keep his memory alive.

A group including Lester reunited last weekend in South Bend, Indiana. They went to the Notre Dame-Navy football game and shared stories in honor of their friend who died defending the country a few months after the 9/11 attacks.

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