A Shanghai barista leads Starbucks partners, customers to volunteer with kids each month

“When you see these children, I promise, you must love them,” says Rachel Liu, who volunteers at a Shanghai-based nonprofit that helps orphans, underprivileged children and kids with disabilities.

Rachel Liu had just started working as a part-time barista at a Starbucks in Shanghai in July 2018 when she heard Howard Schultz speak. The former chief executive officer of Starbucks had announced his retirement from the company a month prior and was visiting stores and partners in China. 

“It was a big meeting,” recalls Rachel, 23. “He talked to us about working with love and creating a world of love, about using our coffee to connect to each other and to our neighborhood.”  

Taking that message to heart, Rachel decided to deepen her relationship with the Jiu Qian Volunteer Center, a Shanghai-based nonprofit with a mission to help underprivileged children reach their full potential through education. The organization also works with orphans, those with physical disabilities and children of migrant workers.  

Rachel first heard about the organization five years ago and spent a summer during college volunteering there as an English teacher. Since joining Starbucks, she’s led teams of 10-12 local partners (employees) and sometimes even customers on regular monthly visits to volunteer. 

The group works with about 30 children at a time. They come with decorations and cake to celebrate birthdays and lead after-school activities like music and cooking. Sometimes, they even demonstrate different methods of preparing coffee, a novelty for many who’ve grown up in a predominantly tea-drinking culture. 

Rachel says the relationships there have impacted her deeply. Some of the students call her “teacher,” and many, she considers little brothers and sisters.  

“To see the children’s smiling faces is my reward,” she says. “It’s my motivation and happiness. When you see these children, I promise, you must love them.”   

Earlier this year, concerns about COVID-19 derailed the visits for a few months, and Rachel and her fellow partners focused their attention on doctors and nurses instead, delivering food and beverages to local hospitals fighting the virus. She remembers the words of encouragement written on every cup of coffee they handed out. “Keep fighting.” “We love you.” The trips to the children’s center have since resumed.   

Rachel finished school last year, earning a master’s degree in international tourism and management in the United Kingdom. She loves to travel and dreams of working in tourism in Europe. Until then, she’ll continue to give her time to the Jiu Qian Volunteer Center.  

“The Starbucks mission is one person, one cup, one neighborhood at a time,” Rachel says. “We have to take our social responsibility seriously.”