How Starbucks partners help create change, one community at a time, with Neighborhood Grants

Each year, Starbucks invites partners (employees) to help guide where The Starbucks Foundation will distribute millions of dollars in local Neighborhood Grants. This unique grantmaking process prioritizes community-based organizations that serve under-resourced populations, while also promoting social and racial equity.  

Partners know their communities best and have a deep understanding of what the critical issues are, which is why they play a vital role in identifying and nominating nonprofits that are addressing local challenges.  

Since 2019, partners have submitted more than 80,000 nominations, resulting in over 10,000 Neighborhood Grants, totaling over $15 million. The current round of nominations is open now through March 3, 2024.

This round of Neighborhood Grants will focus on organizations addressing homelessness, empowering youth, providing hunger relief, uplifting families and focusing on environmental stewardship.

Two Starbucks partners, Hayden and Chanel recently shared their reasons for nominating nonprofits in their communities that help people experiencing homelessness. 

Partners leading the way 

In 2023, partner Hayden in Amarillo, Texas was one of thousands of baristas to answer the call to nominate a local organization for the first time for a Neighborhood Grant.  

He chose the PARC, which stands for Panhandle Adult Rebuilding Center. The PARC is a place for people experiencing homelessness to come during the day to be in the community – without judgment – surrounded by unlimited coffee, a wide range of art supplies, and a rotating list of classes for everything from bible studies and recovery to financial management. 

In Hayden’s nomination letter, which he typed out in minutes, he wrote movingly of his personal connection to the PARC. Here is an excerpt:  

The PARC was founded knowing that lost people can find their identities again. Many shelters in the area are closed for cleaning during the day but the PARC remains open to empower individuals to find themselves. Through art, videos, mentorship, and a loving community the PARC has given people back their identity. Most importantly we call people by their name and recognize that they are an individual. I have been volunteering since I was 14 years old and have seen so many lives changed… 

How grants inspire volunteerism 

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, Nevada, store manager and 14-year Starbucks partner Chanel joined with fellow partners to nominate the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth (NPHY) for multiple grants totaling more than $18,000 since 2020. That funding goes toward helping NPHY’s housing programs, drop-in centers, outreach efforts, workforce development programs and therapy services. 

Joshua Trujillo

“Just being able to give back to our community is so important,” Chanel says. “It's who we are at Starbucks. It's part of our culture.” 

On a rare rainy Thursday morning earlier this month, Wright and more than a dozen other Starbucks partners showed up at NPHY to cook breakfast and make sandwiches for the organization’s clients, who range from ages 14 to 24. Joy and laughter filled the kitchen that day. 

Joshua Trujillo

The longstanding collaboration is mutually beneficial – giving many youths exposure to positive roles models while also inspiring partner volunteers to be part of a community solution to a stubborn and persistent issue. 

NPHY chief executive officer Arash Ghafoori told Chanel that Nevada has one of the highest numbers of unhoused youths in the country. About 12 percent of U.S. youth experiencing homelessness resided in Nevada in 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

“There's kind of a full circle thing going on here when [Starbucks partners] come volunteer with us. It’s workforce development,” he shared with her. “You're creating an environment where young people can see that there are positive adult role models; there are safe adult role models. In fact, sometimes they can even see themselves in that person who’s volunteering with us from Starbucks and go, ‘Wow, I could be that person’ or, ‘I could work with them.’”

Empowered by Starbucks to do more 

In Texas, when Hayden learned that the PARC, which he’d nominated, had been selected to receive a grant, he said he felt amazing.   

“I was very emotional because I felt that when I left social work [school], there was nothing else for me,” he said. “But I realized Starbucks really does care about people, and I was able to find, I think, a new avenue for helping people that I didn't think was possible.”  

The PARC’s executive director and co-founder Valerie Gooch says that beyond the time Hayden has given, every penny of the Neighborhood Grant the organization received has a direct impact on individuals often experiencing the lowest point of their lives. Homelessness is a chronic community problem that requires constant support and resources.  

“When a member walks through the door, [funding] means they can have good coffee, they can have a beautiful building, they can have supplies for creativity,” she says, providing a gateway for each individual to “feel accepted and to begin to move forward.”  

A few states away, Chanel says bringing balloons and a certificate to the staff of NPHY when they’ve received grants in the past is an incredibly meaningful and fun experience.

“It really fills my cup to know that I hopefully did my part to help someone's life. Maybe it made someone smile or just know that they’re cared for.” 

Impacting real people  

When Hayden thinks of friends he has made along the way, he beams when he brings up a former PARC member named Tracy. At a reunion in January, Tracy shared that she was not in a good place eight years ago when she started coming to the center. Chronically abused and unhoused, she described herself as emotionally walled off and difficult. She said that meeting Hayden was unexpected and helped to change the course of her life. Tracy has since graduated from college with honors, is no longer experiencing homelessness and is reunited with her family. 

“When you become homeless, you do not feel like people love you anymore. You're made fun of by other homeless people. You're made fun of by all society. It's just really hard to rebuild your life or to feel like you have a purpose or a place where you can come,” Tracy says. “For me, art is therapy. So, the PARC is free therapy. A warm cup of coffee is huge, that is gold – coffee is frigging life! So I could not be more grateful that Starbucks would choose a place like this or choose people like us to spend their money.”

Joshua Trujillo

At NPHY in Las Vegas, Ghafoori says partnering to serve some of the most vulnerable among us is an important reminder of the role that a global coffee company has in a local community. 

“Today I had a chance to meet Chanel, the very person from our local neighborhood Starbucks that nominated us for this really amazing award. And it really helped us. Starbucks is a big corporation, but at the end of the day they're doing on-the-ground work, community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood,” he said. “It's like we can actually hug Starbucks, we can high five with Starbucks. We can actually share a coffee together. And that's because Chanel nominated us for this award.”

Nominating local heroes  

To her fellow partners, Chanel hopes that they find a few minutes out of their busy schedules to nominate a cause they care about.  

“I hope that our partners know that applying for a Neighborhood Grant can feel like a really difficult task, but there are ways to make this easier. If it's hard or if you have questions, talk to your manager,” she advises.  

On the receiving end, nonprofit leaders like Ghafoori and Gooch could not be more grateful for the support.

“Because of those times when Starbucks just pops in with balloons and coffee and those delicious pastries, it helps us remember that we are doing hard work and that it's important and it's worth it and it's actually valued by our community partners,” Ghafoori says. “You're cheering us on. You're uplifting our work and we can't thank you enough for that because sometimes we need that too.” 

In Amarillo, Gooch says Starbucks is a beloved brand and place for people to gather. She hopes that partners all over North America will help their communities the way Hayden has supported the PARC: “Take the time to nominate those places that are worthy of these grants because it's making a difference. And that impact spreads.”