25 years of Starbucks CUP Fund: By partners, for partners

When Lisa Price, who started with Starbucks as a barista in 1994, got her first corporate job with the company in 1996, she was a coordinator for the Pacific Northwest Regional office, welcoming store and district managers as they arrived for meetings. One day a store manager came in with a problem. One of her store partners, a single mother, was about to be evicted from her house. “What can we do to help?” the manager asked. This question would drive Price and a group of partners – Rene Suruda, Dixie McCullough and Joan Moffat – to start a fund to help Starbucks partners (employees) in need

Over the next two years, the team would build a new program from scratch, with each volunteering for a different role to keep it moving forward. Price remembers working with the Starbucks Creative Studio to create a logo and the tri-fold brochure (remember those?) that announced the program. They invited partners to contribute, even as little as $1 per paycheck, and organized bake sales and fundraisers. They named it the Caring Unites Partners Fund – the CUP Fund. By partners, for partners.

“I was just an office coordinator and working on the CUP Fund wasn’t my full-time job,” Price said. “It was none of our full-time jobs, but it was cool to be able to launch an idea and be supported by the company to do so.” 

By 1998, they launched a pilot in the Pacific Northwest region, awarding 15 grants for a total of $13,095. The program quickly grew nationwide across the United States, and would ultimately expand to Canada, Japan and China. In its 25 years, it has helped partners in the aftermath of flooding and fires, catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina and Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, and COVID-19. It has also helped partners navigate personal challenges, like unexpected deaths in the family and domestic violence situations. For those working on the program, the reward would be the letters they would receive of thanks from partners they were able to help. 

“People would give such heartfelt ‘thank you’s,” Price said. “There was a ton of appreciation for what we were trying to do.” 

While the day-to-day administration of the program would transition from the volunteer committee to a more formal one with the hiring of a full-time administrator, Price would go on to become a leader in the Starbucks partner resources organization in her 20 years with the company (she is now Chief Human Resources Officer at Domino’s Pizza). In addition to continued partner support through payroll deductions and contributions, starting today, May 9, the CUP Fund will receive a boost from contributions to the fund raised from sales of the new partner-created Starbucks® Green Apron Blend™ coffee. 

Reflecting on the impact the CUP Fund has made starting with that first partner in need more than 25 years ago, Price said, “It’s amazing to have the opportunity to impact the trajectory of people’s lives. I think that’s just the type of company Starbucks is.” 

CUP Fund Profiles 

Since its inception in 1998, the CUP Fund has benefited more than 71,000 partners with more than $51 million in grants, and there is a story behind each one. Three partners share theirs: 

Janice Williams-Harp, store manager, Lake Orion, Michigan  

Janice Williams-Harp likes to tell her story to every new partner she onboards; it helps set the right tone. It was 2012, and she was two weeks into her role as an assistant store manager in Auburn Hills, Michigan, when her husband came running into her store.  

“We had the clothes on our body and that was it. We had a small child at the time. What do you need? I didn’t know where to start. Everything.”  

Their house was on fire.  

“We lost everything,” Williams-Harp remembers. “We had the clothes on our body and that was it. We had a small child at the time. What do you need? I didn’t know where to start. Everything.”  

The very next day, through the CUP Fund, she received a grant for $1,000 that she used to pay first and last month's rent for temporary housing, where her family lived for four months, figuring out what to do next. She and her husband had put most of their savings into the home, which they’d purchased just a few years before.  

“I hadn’t received a paycheck yet,” says Williams-Harp, who’s been a store manager now for almost 10 years. “That generosity, on the worst day of my life, it speaks volumes to who we are. It defined who this company is to me.”  

Jen Richmann, retail leader recruiter, Fresno, California  

In 2007, when Jen Richmann was a Starbucks barista, her brother became ill and died unexpectedly. He was a single parent of two girls. They all lived together on the same property.  

“I really believe that generosity closed the gap for us to not have to struggle more than what we needed to.” 

“In that moment, we were going to pay for the funeral and make sure the girls had what they needed,” Richmann says. “We made the hard decision that we were just going to have to be late on the mortgage (that month). We were all we had and trying to figure out how can we get through this together.”  

A couple months later, stressed about not being able to catch up, she confided in her store manager, who recommended looking into the CUP Fund. The grant covered her late payment, paid off some bills, and “It really did allow us to breathe,” she remembers.  

Richmann advanced in her career, moving up to store manager and in 2021, earning her degree through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which covers 100 percent tuition at Arizona State University. Later that year, she transitioned into a full-time recruiter role.  

And her two nieces? One graduated from college and has a child of her own. The other is a military spouse living at a base in Colorado.  

“They’re both grown and thriving,” Richmann says. “I really believe that generosity closed the gap for us to not have to struggle more than what we needed to.”  

Richard Foland, district manager, Houston, Texas  

In 2017, Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston, including the first-floor apartment where Richard Foland lived.  

“There’s a responsibility that we have as Starbucks leaders and culture keepers to keep this topic going.”

“Complete destruction. Four-and-a-half-feet of water,” Foland remembers. “When you experience seeing your personal belongings just floating around you – the refrigerator was floating, my couches were floating – it’s the most helpless feeling.”  

Foland, a 10-year partner who started as a barista, considers himself lucky. He was able to get into temporary housing while the water receded. An expedited CUP Fund check helped him buy groceries, a bag of dog food, and other necessities like extra clothes and towels. 

“There’s a responsibility that we have as Starbucks leaders and culture keepers to keep this topic going,” Foland says. “It’s how we pull the green thread through. It’s how we share with each other. It’s partners helping other partners, doing the right thing. That’s us living our mission and values.”