While visiting a Starbucks in western Washington earlier this year, Greg Uryc stood behind a soldier who was counting his cash to figure out if he had enough money to buy a grande coffee.
The Atlanta resident offered to pay for the soldier's drink, and he gratefully accepted. The brief, friendly exchange struck a chord with Uryc, who decided to repeat the gesture on a much larger scale.
Early in the morning of November 3, Uryc was back in the area visiting his daughter and son-in-law, who's an Army captain stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. He settled in for a few hours at a Starbucks® store near the base, where he planned to give away more than 100 free drinks to military personnel stationed in the area.
The idea, explained the Holland-born son of an American serviceman, was to methodically build up the number of Starbucks Rewards™ Stars earned through purchase of eligible items in Starbucks stores.
“People do the math and realize I drink a lot of coffee,” said Uryc with a laugh. “I’m probably in Starbucks six times a day.”
Even a half-dozen trips to Starbucks daily doesn’t add up to the kind of number he was reaching for. A self-proclaimed indulgent father of an only child (and a soon-to-be grandfather for the second time), Uryc is in the habit of picking up the Starbucks tab for his family, as well as for friends and often strangers.
“When I’m in Starbucks, I usually buy for someone behind me,” he said. “At one of the stores in Atlanta that I frequent a lot, we started this thing in the drive thru to pay for the next person's order. One time we did it, we had 18 cars pay for the drink behind them. Then I came back and we actually got up to 30 cars. I always say, ‘Pay it forward.’ You don’t have to buy for someone behind you. Just next time you’re in Starbucks, buy someone a coffee.”
A Goal Surpassed
He kept his plan a secret, not even telling his wife. Meanwhile, he reached his target of 10,000 Stars quicker than he’d anticipated, so he set new goals, eventually accumulating 17,000 Stars. A sales director for a business services company, Uryc reached out Starbucks for help when he was ready to distribute his cache. Amy Quesenberry, Starbucks district manager for the Lewis-McChord region, identified a store with a particularly strong connection with the military community.
“I’d say 80 to 90 percent of our customer base is military uniform or military families,” said Ashley Ramirez, the manager of a high-volume Starbucks located a short distance from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. “We also have quite a few partners (employees) who work here who are military spouses.”
Before sunrise, Uryc had purchased drinks for more than a dozen uniformed Starbucks customers, offering a handshake and making it clear there was no catch.
“It’s early in the morning,” said one U.S. Army soldier, enjoying the hot drink in his hand. “I really don’t expect anyone to do anything nice for me this early.”
“Usually people say, ‘You don’t have to do that’ and I say, ‘No, I want to,'" Uryc said. "I explain that I’ve saved these up for six months and now I’m here to spend them. I think it makes them feel a little better knowing that we’re doing something for them.”
Recognizing Veterans Day
Now through November 11, for every Veterans Day Starbucks Card or eGift purchased, Starbucks will contribute $5 to help support programs that direct veterans to use their skills, experience and commitment to help create positive change in their communities: Team Rubicon, Team Red, White & Blue, and The Mission Continues. Learn more about Starbucks support of service members, military spouses and veterans: Paying Tribute and Creating Opportunity.
On Veterans Day, active duty service members, reservists, veterans and military spouses are invited to enjoy a free Tall Brewed Coffee as a gesture of the company's appreciation for the military community's sacrifices and contributions.