Starbucks gives 1 million cups of free coffee to front-line responders in U.S. and Canada

Starbucks partners have served more than 1 million cups of free coffee to first responders and front-line health care workers during the COVID-19 outbreak, the company announced today.   

Since March 25, Starbucks has been giving out free tall brewed (hot or iced) coffees to first responders and front-line healthcare workers and will continue to do so through the end of May.  

For many of those working long hours caring for those who are sick or in need, a cup of coffee can represent a bright spot in their day and give them a much-needed boost, some say.

Behind each cup of coffee served are Starbucks partners across the United States and Canada committed to helping show their support and admiration to those on the front lines, whether that means delivering coffee to those who need it, writing notes of encouragement to accompany each order and more.  Here are some of their stories:

Special delivery to Washington D.C. police stations

For the last 18 months, Adam Modzel has been trying to strengthen the relationship between Starbucks and local police departments: about 100 “Coffee with a Cop” events, helping secure a grant to the Washington D.C. Police Foundation, big outreach efforts on Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.

When the pandemic hit, Adam, Starbucks regional director in Washington D.C., had to shut down 98 out of 100 stores he supervises.

Regardless, he made a commitment to keep that work going. Starbucks district managers, store managers and store partners have volunteered to brew and deliver coffee to every single D.C. Police station every afternoon for roll call. Fifty cups of coffee for each of the 11 stations. Every single day for the last four weeks.

“I’m always inspired by our partners, but this is next level,” Adam says. “They’re choosing every day to show up to serve their customers and their communities. We’ve had hundreds of partners do that. It shows how extraordinary our people are.”

Coffee with a side of snacks and encouraging notes

Last month, as the COVID-19 pandemic was closing in, Nicole Weston felt frustrated. The Starbucks store she manages in Greenville, N.C., is in a medical district, and business revolves around shift changes at the hospital. With reduced hours and moving to drive-thru only, her team wasn’t able to serve many of their regular customers – medical personnel who work late afternoons and evenings.

That’s when she overheard a conversation at the drive-thru window. A woman who works in the COVID-19 response unit at nearby Vidant Medical Center had just finished a shift, and was talking about how tired she was, and how she’d never washed her hands so many times in her life. 

“I asked her, ‘How can I get coffee to you guys? What department has the most need?’,” Nicole recalls. The woman offered to come back a few days later to pick up coffee and supplies for her team. “Once we found out that she could pick it up and get it in the hospital, it was just like, ‘Ok, we’re in. Let’s do this.’ ”

Her team has continued to prepare and donate coffee, water, snacks and handwritten notes of thanks and encouragement.

“A couple weeks ago, I felt powerless. Today I feel empowered,” Nicole says. “People are looking for a sense of normalcy right now. Some people have been in isolation for days. Some people, their job situation has changed, or they’ve been laid off. We’re just trying to provide a little bit of that normalcy back, to let people know that we’re there for them. It’s very important at this time.”

A small act of kindness for long-term care facilities

Long-term care facilities are particularly vulnerable at this time, but the nurses who work there can feel overlooked. To ensure they felt taken care of, Starbucks store manager Maria Gaw, of Airdrie, Alberta, organized a delivery of coffee travelers to two local long-term homes.

Maria’s partner, Kayla Noordhof, is training to be a health care aide and helped her contact the facilities to ensure they would accept the token of appreciation. One of the nurses she got in touch with broke down crying when she called. 

“It’s moments like this that make me proud to be a partner,” Maria says. “The nurse was so appreciative of the kind gesture. She was grateful that we remembered that they were working just as hard (if not harder) as our hospital nurses.” 

Since then, Maria and her Starbucks team have continued donating coffee at least once a week “just to keep our nurses happy and show that we care.”

On call for first responders

Ambulances and other first-responder vehicles often don’t fit through standard drive-thru lanes, and even if they do, they don’t want to be stuck in line in case an emergency arises.

That’s why Thomas Winklebeck, Starbucks store manager in Skokie, Ill., has handed out his personal cell phone number to the Skokie Fire Department. They call him direct, so he can walk out to the parking lot or the front of the store and deliver drinks to first responders.

“When this all started, I still had that ‘won’t-happen-to-me’ mentality,” Thomas says. “Now that it has hit home, I ask myself, how do we not reach out?”

-- by Michael Ko and Isabelle Khoo

For other stories about partners supporting front-line workers, read on: