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Home : News : Nation and World
Nebraska Lifeboat Coffee company aims to boost U.S. pro-life groups
Catholic News Service

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — John Lillis, a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, had seen God's intervention for life play out in more than one way long before starting a new coffee company with a mission to help pro-life groups earn money.

As a baby, the now-married father of seven survived the Therapeutic Abortion Act passage in 1967 around the time of his own birth, a bill that legalized abortion on demand in California. He was adopted as a baby. As a teenager, he had another run-in with death.

"I survived a head-on collision with a Redwood tree at 65 miles per hour in Northern California when I was 18 and walked away with a tiny cut on my head," he said. "I didn't even need stitches. I didn't see it at the time, but all my family told me there must be something God wants you to do, because you're supposed to be dead."

Lillis has, in turn, throughout his life intervened in prayer and action to make sure others' fates also gets changed for the better.

In December, Lillis also launched Lifeboat Coffee Co., which contracts with affiliate pro-life groups nationwide to exchange sales of coffee, tea and related merchandise for commission to put toward their causes. For every bag of coffee and tea sold, a pro-life group of the buyer's choice gets $1 of sales.

"These things have partially inspired me and, coupled with my deep, abiding joy in being a practicing Catholic in union with the bishops, in union with the Holy See, I walk, talk and act without fear of the  unknown because the saints and apostles are backing me up," Lillis told The Colorado Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Colorado Springs.

"My basic philosophy is that as Americans, we must defend life at all stages -- our fundamental right is life and without it, there is nothing else, literally," he said in a telephone interview from Omaha, Neb., where the company is based. "Who cares about taxes, welfare, war, unemployment -- or even coffee -- without life?"

Lifeboat Coffee works through interested affiliate pro-life groups who can sell online using the company's logo and get $1 per item back, or buy wholesale and do in-person sales and event selling. Several retailers, pro-life affiliates and a national shrine is working to sell the coffee.

Lifeboat's major affiliate currently is Life and Hope Network, a foundation formed in honor of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who died in March 2005 after a court ordered her feeding tube removed.

The company has two retail locations and affiliates that also include the March For Life Education and Defense Fund. Family and company investors spent $20,000 to start the company, followed by another $50,000 or more in sweat equity for coffees and infrastructure. The group is seeking more investors.

Joseph Kenney, director of Sancta Familia, a Catholic medical apostolate, said Lifeboat was right in line with the values of his mission group of about 20 experts who operate out of Omaha.

"I can't think of a better group I can support. They're on the front lines and they're really living the mission themselves," he said.

Kenney described a recent day when the temperature was 6 degrees below zero and the wind chill made it 45 below, "and the Lifeboat guys were at the abortion clinic at the coldest hour of the day praying for the mothers that were going into the clinic."

Lifeboat coffees are handled by two regional roasters -- a small micro-roaster in Iowa that provides the signature morning blend and an Omaha-based roaster who does the rest. The Arabica coffees are purchased through brokers, and the main roasts come from Sumatra, Costa Rica, Colombia and Guatemala, Lillis said.

While not fair-trade certified, the roasters work on a sustainability model of coffee that surpasses the standards set by fair trade, according to Lillis.

"All of our beans are selected on the commodities exchange, which precludes them from being 'slave' beans," he said.

Lifeboat Coffee's best-seller to date is the Port of Caldera Costa Rican ground coffee, Lillis said. The company just launched a line of teas. Its Irish Breakfast tea, a handmade black tea blend, is an early customer favorite.

The company also sells seasonal Port of Pumpkin Spice and the Christ's Birthday Supremo, both built on a medium Colombian coffee and flavored with pumpkin and minty-mocha flavors, respectively, Lillis said.

The company created a limited-edition packaging of their medium or dark roast Colombian ground coffee in recognition of the national March for Life on Jan. 22 in Washington.

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