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Starbucks Coffee has a long standing reputation of being community minded, and they proved it once again during the 2009 California wildfire with free Starbucks coffee and free WiFi. As fires ravaged over 240 square miles of the hills around Los Angeles, thousands of individuals who live in those hills were evacuated from the fire theater, leaving them without the tools of communication that most people now take for granted – Internet access and telephone lines. The Starbucks Company, which has always had a reputation for recognizing and stepping up to ameliorate community needs that fall within their expertise, did it again.
Starting Monday, August 31, Starbucks began providing free coffee to all of the fire staging areas and Red Cross evacuation stations for both those who were fighting the fires and those who have been displaced from their homes by the fires. The free coffee was especially appreciated by those who had to stay alert while managing the fire battle lines, as well as by those who were evacuated from their homes. The provision of free coffee is a departure for Starbucks corporate, which generally only supplies free coffee donations for non-profit organizations in very limited circumstances. Instead, their community involvement strategies tend to involve leveraging their widespread visibility and their size to garner donations of time and money from customers and associates at their stores.
While donating free coffee is almost a given in the “what Starbucks can do to help”, the company also stepped outside their usual box in considering another contribution that they could make in the fire situation. Reasoning that many of those evacuated from homes within the fire area would be without access to their usual means of communicating with family and business associates, the company partnered with AT&T, which provides WiFi access points at many Starbucks stores, to provide free WiFi access at 19 Starbucks coffee shops within the area affected by the fire.
The free WiFi is very much in keeping with Starbucks’ typical community service strategy, which is to evaluate all of their resources and imagine how they could be used in creative ways to meet community needs. Thus, in January 2009, when US President Obama announced an effort to enroll as many citizens in community service volunteer positions as possible, Starbucks put together a campaign to sign up volunteers for local volunteer opportunities.
Their effort including creating an online platform where volunteers across the country could find local organizations looking for volunteers that fit their expertise, as well as offering a free coffee to anyone who came into any of their stores nationwide and signed a pledge card promising to volunteer 20 hours over the next year.