Starbucks Partners Offer Comfort and Coffee in a Devastated Community

In the hours after a massive landslide engulfed the tiny community of Oso, Washington, rescue workers faced the daunting task of finding signs of life in a 300-acre area strewn with trees, boulders, obliterated buildings and debris as deep as a seven-story building in some places.

“It is heart wrenching. My husband is a firefighter and I know a lot of the first responders. Everyone in this area knows someone affected by the mudslide,” Jen Bilow said, fighting back tears. “The community is hurting as the enormity of what happened sinks in.”

Nearly two weeks after the mudslide that has so far claimed 41 lives, the community is still waiting for word on two people listed as missing (updated numbers as of 4/26/24). And as they wait – at the Oso Fire Station, a Red Cross center, and an old school that’s become a makeshift command post for the Federal Emergency Management Agency – Bilow tries to provide some comfort.

She manages the Starbucks store in Arlington, 20 miles west of the disaster zone. Twice a day Bilow and her store partners (employees) have been delivering food, hot water, and 40 gallons of coffee to rescue crews and community members.

“We all wanted to help and we jumped in to help because that’s the kind of people Starbucks hires,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do for our neighbors.”

Thousands of Starbucks partners have done this kind of work in regions around the world that have been devastated by natural disasters. While partners have planned more than 2,000 community service projects in 40 countries during Starbucks Global Month of Service this April, they also respond to immediate needs in their communities year-round.

“This exemplifies community service for me,” said Julie Shepler, Starbucks district manager in the region affected by the Oso landslide. “It’s all about doing what is needed, where it’s needed, when it’s needed.”

Shepler is making the early morning coffee delivery to rescue workers.

“These people are coming in with their boots duct taped to their pants to keep the potentially hazardous mud off the rescuers' bodies. They’re muddy, they’re tired, they’re cold, and they’re doing disheartening work,” she said. “Yet they are so thankful for the coffee that’s just a little bit of comfort for them.”

More help arrives as Koichi Kitazumi unloads boxes of coffee donated by partners from the Starbucks headquarters donated. Kitazumi, a Starbucks Global Innovations implementation specialist, delivers 768 pounds of coffee with hand-written messages from partners on the bags:

Thank you for reminding us all what it means to be involved and truly give back to our communities. Stay strong!

Oso, we love you!

Thank you for all you are doing for families in the community!

The coffee will be sent to relief centers in the Washington town of Darrington, which was partially cut off when the landslide covered a one-mile section of highway. Kitazumi estimates there will be “at least 400 pounds more in the next couple of weeks.”

The Starbucks Foundation has also donated $50,000 to support immediate needs in the Oso area through the American Red Cross, while an additional $50,000 donation will go to the United Way of Snohomish County Recovery Fund for long-term rebuilding efforts.

“We talk about Starbucks as a third place – a familiar place people can gather that’s away from home and away from work. When something like this happens we see what that means,” said Shepler. “We’re bringing that third place out to the fire department because that’s what they need. And our customers are coming in here to connect with each other and get a smile or encouragement from partners.”

That encouragement goes both ways.

In Bilow’s store, a customer asks her how many partners are on staff. The customer’s daughter, Annie, wants to know because she’s baking cookies to give to each of them Saturday.

The Starbucks partners in Arlington aren’t just serving the community; they’re a part of it.

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First-ever Starbucks North America Barista Championship is a celebration of our partners