By Bonnie Rochman/Starbucks Newsroom
In the sleepless hours that followed September’s earthquake that devastated parts of Mexico City and the small villages surrounding it, coffee was a critical commodity. When rescuers emerged from the rubble, caked with dust, they needed coffee. And Alejandro Sarabia, who manages the Starbucks closest to the Enrique Rebsamen school — one of more than 40 buildings that collapsed in the capital — was there to supply it.
Sarabia’s store, in the Plaza America shopping center, was turned into a collection center for food, water and supplies, which were then distributed to volunteers, rescue teams and victims. The army gave Sarabia and other volunteers access to a spot near the school that they used as a staging area. From there, they could see people being pulled out and watch anxious relatives wait for news.
One woman sticks in his mind. A mother of a child trapped in the school, where at least 25 people died, she refused offers of coffee. “She said she didn’t need it because she was kept awake by the hope of seeing her child rescued,” said Sarabia, who left the area before the woman got news of her child.
Her hope was fulfilled, he later learned. Her son — age 9 or 10, Sarabia figures — was pulled out alive.
Six weeks after the Sept. 19 earthquake, Sarabia remains inspired by how Starbucks partners came together to help with rescue efforts, working with the Red Cross or in teams to make Mexican sandwiches called tortas or delivering chocolate, coffee and other pick-me-ups to keep up the rescuers’ strength and resolve. “This experience made us better human beings,” he said. “We were able to put into action the values of our brand.”
Partners donated time and customers donated pesos
In the immediate aftermath of the devastation, partners pitched in with a boots-on-the-ground devotion. As the clean-up continued, it became clear that funds for rebuilding would be required as well. From Sept. 29 to Oct. 31, Starbucks Mexico held a fundraiser allowing customers at any of its 630 Mexican stores to donate a peso — about 5 cents.
The month-long campaign raised $456,000, which will go to support local relief and rebuilding efforts. Donations were matched by foundations run by Alsea, which owns and operates Starbucks locations in Mexico, and Starbucks, in effect tripling each customer’s contribution. This marks the first time that The Starbucks Foundation has matched customer donations outside the United States in conjunction with a local business partner.
As a major coffee-growing hub, and its first and largest retail market in Latin America, Starbucks has a long-standing relationship with Mexico. “Building on this strong relationship, the Starbucks Foundation is deeply committed to supporting relief and rebuilding efforts and proud to match our customers’ generosity,” said Virginia Tenpenny, executive director of The Starbucks Foundation and vice president of global social impact for Starbucks.
It’s customers’ generosity and their trust in Starbucks that impressed local district manager Nancy Mier in the aftermath of the quake. On social media, stories circulated about goods not reaching the distressed communities for which they were intended. When customers arrived at the eight stores in Mier’s district bearing blankets, clothing, medical supplies, rice, beans and water, they had faith that their donations would get where they were supposed to go. “They said, ‘We know you will really take these things to the people who need them.’ Our stores are seen as centers of good practices.”
A fist in the air, followed by complete silence
The customers were right. Mier corralled her cousins to fill their vans with customers’ contributions and supplies from other collection centers and transport them to villages in need. On motorbike or on foot, Mier handed out coffee during rescuers’ shift changes. She recalls the hush that would descend over the crowds when a rescuer would raise a fist skyward, requesting complete silence to determine whether a person was alive beneath the rubble.
Not everyone was. More than 360 people died throughout the quake zone, including the half-sister of Edgar Peña, district manager in Sonora state. Peña’s family lives in Jojutla, near the earthquake’s epicenter. In the days after the shaking subsided, he flew to console his father and assist with relief efforts in the town of 60,000 where he was born, where half of the buildings collapsed into chunks of concrete.
Alsea helped set up collection sites for cooking oil and canned food, toilet paper and water, which 30 partners delivered to Jojutla on Sept. 29. When the partners arrived with 100 boxes, Peña was there to greet them and direct operations, determining where to bring the supplies. “Sixty percent of the town was devastated so it was difficult to decide where to deliver help because everyone needed help,” said Peña.
He settled on distributing supplies to areas he could reach, focusing on shelters and people waiting in the streets to find out if their homes would be demolished or if they’d be allowed in to retrieve anything that remained salvageable. Peña and the partners trudged through the ruins, supporting one another as they supported the villagers.
“The devastation is something indescribable,” said Peña, whose sister lost her house. “I went from seeing what was happening from the outside to being part of it.”