How Starbucks Partners Find Meaning Through Community Service

Charles walked several miles to reach a facility where he’d heard there would be free food, clothing, haircuts, eye exams, and dental care. Standing in line, waiting his turn for services, he smiled for a moment when a volunteer handed him a cup of coffee.

“Thank you ma’am,” he said, self-consciously averting his eyes to the ground.

This was all new to him. Being homeless was new to him.

The 44-year-old man was one of about 1,500 people who participated in a Community Resource Exchange in Seattle, organized by the United Way of King County and supported by Starbucks. Public health workers gave flu shots. Dentists did checkups. Local stylists gave haircuts. Volunteers distributed shoes and escorted homeless men and women to tables where they could have a meal or make phone calls.

“We wanted to make sure they got what they needed, and that included sincere conversation,” said Rodney Hines, who volunteered during the day-long event last year. “Service like that made me pause and reflect on how fortunate some of us are. It made me question what more I can do.”

Hines has also been asking “what more can Starbucks do” for almost a decade as director of Community Investments for the company.

“The theme that punctuates most of my career is the search for ways to address the socioeconomic inequities that exist in our world,” he said. “Community service is one way we use our scale as a global company to do just that in the neighborhoods where we do business.”

Throughout the year, partners (employees) and customers contribute hundreds of thousands of hours volunteering on projects that include: building and planting community gardens; painting school murals and tutoring students; collaborating with nonprofits to support programs affecting preschoolers to senior citizens.

Starbucks highlights the year-round efforts each April with its Global Month of Service. Last April, Starbucks partners worked alongside customers and nonprofit groups on 1,691 projects benefiting an estimated 1.4 million people.

“The impact of these projects around the world is not only for the people and organizations we’re helping; it’s through the learning and conversations that lead to empathy and possibly a better sense of self for the volunteer,” Hines said.

Meaningful work - the foundation of Starbucks community service - happens he said, "when our partners walk away knowing who they’ve served, why they served them, what the impact is, and what more they can do.

Click here to see the full-page ad Starbucks sponsored in several national newspapers to honor Dr. King's legacy.

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5 things to know about first-ever Starbucks Promises Day