Starbucks manager and barista join forces to help get money for free health clinic

When Liz Villarreal-Rowe, 55, and Jillian Sander, 18, heard about a plan for a free health clinic in their Ohio community, they worked together to help get funds for supplies and medicine.

Liz Villarreal-Rowe had the connection with the doctors. Jillian Sander knew the medical students.   

Together, they joined forces – a store manager and a barista at a Starbucks in Maumee, Ohio – to write a grant proposal to help get money for a free neighborhood health clinic put on by the University of Toledo (UT) Medical School.  

Liz, 55, the manager, has been going on annual medical missions to her native Guatemala for the last 16 years. She’s the logistics manager, working with a university doctor who rounds up volunteers and leads the trip.  

Jillian, 18, the barista, is a pre-veterinary student at UT. She befriended a group of regular customers – medical students – who often studied late into the night at her Starbucks. Inspired by their hard work, she teamed up with them for several years to donate and deliver food to clinics in the area.   

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the university’s medical school, including some of those same doctors and students, helped launch a free CommunityCares Clinic to help vulnerable people: those experiencing homelessness in downtown Toledo, people without insurance and migrant farming families in nearby rural communities. But they needed funds to buy supplies and medication.  

Liz and Jillian heard about the clinic and nominated the organization for a Neighborhood Grant from The Starbucks Foundation. The grant, awarded to nonprofits supporting the COVID-19 response, helped the clinic buy personal protective equipment, medicine and other supplies.

“You heard all these stories of people that didn’t have the means to go to the hospital, or hospitals that were being overwhelmed,” Liz says. “We cannot personally go, but we can help in this way.” 

For Liz, staying open for a community with a hospital was important. They were able to provide doctors, nurses and other essential workers with coffee every day. For weeks, she and her team donated take-out containers of coffee to the hospital. It also gave her a chance to mentor her team through a crisis.  

“I know the opportunities I’ve had at Starbucks are invaluable,” says Liz, who’s been a store manager for seven years and has worked on dozens of community engagement projects. “For me, as a person, a professional, a mentor, I feel the need to share that wealth with everybody else. One of the ways to do it to help others grow, to pass the torch. I’m the oldest person in the store, so I like to bring along the kids and teach them. 

“During the holidays, a lot of people share these positive feelings of joy and peace, but it doesn’t have to be only during December. We are capable of sharing these feelings throughout the year.”

Message received. Jillian, who’s worked at Starbucks since she was 16, credits Liz for inspiring her to develop a more positive mindset.  

“I definitely think I’ve learned over the last year to trust that things will work out, to try to make the situation around me better,” Jillian says. “All I can do is try and be positive on my end, and from there, keep the faith. It feels good to know that I’m not only making a customer connection, but I’m making a person-to-person connection, working together to do something for the community.”