As a 7-year-old girl, Esther Ortega Johnson often woke up early on weekends during cold weather, bundled up in warm clothes and made her way to downtown Los Angeles with family members. Their journey was for a special purpose: to provide a hot meal to anyone in need on the streets.
“My dad would organize my extended family to make tacos and hot chocolate and pass the food and beverages out to anyone looking for something to eat,” says Johnson, a store manager now living in San Antonio, Texas. “That was my first experience with homelessness and hunger.”
Soon, more family members and friends learned about the effort and joined in.
“We weren’t working for any particular organization, we were simply helping people in need,” Johnson says. “That’s how my parents raised me and my siblings. If you’re able to provide for other people, then it’s your responsibility to make sure that you do.”
That experience as a child had a decided impact on Johnson, who is one of several Starbucks partners (employees) supporting the company’s effort to expand its FoodShare program to San Antonio and Houston. Through this program, surplus food at local Starbucks stores will be donated to local Feeding America agencies. Starbucks will celebrate these stores joining the FoodShare program February 21 with a volunteer event at the San Antonio Food Bank, the local partner in this market.
In a response to a call to action from partners like Esther Ortega Johnson, Starbucks is leading a national effort to provide nourishing, ready-to-eat meals to people in need as part of FoodShare. Through a strategic alliance with Feeding America, Starbucks has set a goal to rescue 100 percent of food available to donate from their more than 7,000 U.S. company-operated stores.
“Our partners understood how important it was for us to donate surplus food back to the local community and they were the catalyst behind the FoodShare program,” says John Kelly, senior vice president, Starbucks Global Social Impact. “We were so inspired by Feeding America and all of its network partners who spend each day trying to get food to the people who need it the most. Now we can address hunger together.”
Along with San Antonio and Houston, Starbucks stores in San Diego, Orange County, Denver, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Colorado Springs have launched the FoodShare program. By the end of September, Starbucks plans to be in 18 markets and at full scale in 2019. When the program rollout is complete, Starbucks estimates that partners in company-operated stores will be able to provide 50 million nourishing ready-to-eat meals each year.
Bertha Gonzaba, Starbucks regional director for San Antonio and South Texas, is proud of the company for launching the FoodShare program. Six months ago, she got a call to help bring the program to San Antonio.
“It was great to hear that Starbucks was looking to solve some of the problems of hunger in local communities and using our products for good,” she says. “What’s even greater is that our surplus food will benefit the San Antonio Food Bank, an organization that we have volunteered with for years. It’s wonderful to see everything come full circle.”
Surplus food from more than 54 stores throughout San Antonio will be collected each evening by the local Feeding America chapter and transported in refrigerated trucks to a local shelter maintained by a chapter of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society and several other shelters in the area.
“In San Antonio, there are about 3,000 people who are homeless and almost half are unsheltered. A third of these people are families with children,” says Michael Guerra, chief development officer for the San Antonio Food Bank. “Having the trust and respect from a national brand with the recognition and reputation that Starbucks has is a tremendous gift. It’s amazing to see this organized corporate effort to give Starbucks partners the tools to put good food to use. It’s the greatest thing to see the joy and satisfaction it gives them to avoid food waste and help people at the same time—I cannot underestimate that part of this effort.”
Houston’s 164 Starbucks stores will be delivering surplus food to the Houston Food Bank, according to Starbucks district manager Margaret Barada. The company has provided complimentary coffee to the organization’s visitors and volunteers since 2011.
“The Houston Food Bank is the largest in the nation and Starbucks has a huge footprint in Houston, so we are very excited about the partnership,” says Barada.
“We’re delighted that the relationship is expanding through the FoodShare program, which allows us to provide fresh quality food items to our partner agencies,” says Brian Greene, president of the Houston Food Bank.