Langley, B.C. Starbucks store manager, Sonja Olsen started out with a small idea to spread holiday cheer to seniors – one that has quickly snowballed into a community-wide initiative.
In less than two weeks, Olsen and her team at the 200th St. Starbucks have collected hundreds of greeting cards filled with messages of care for the community’s seniors who may be spending the holidays alone this year due to the pandemic.
“I didn’t think this was going to gain this much traction,” says Olsen, who came up with the idea, thinking about her own grandmother who lives in an assisted-living home in Burnaby and will be one of many seniors who may not be able to celebrate the holidays with her loved ones this year. Olsen and her team were discussing the store’s plans for Starbucks annual Season of Cheer, which empowers partners (employees) to find ways to connect with their community, spread kindness, and give back wherever and whenever possible.
And while community service is challenged by the pandemic this year, partners have found creative ways to give back.
‘You are not alone’
Olsen initially set out 60 blank cards on a table in the store. Next to them, she put up a small sign welcoming partners and customers alike to write a card to a senior in a care home. To her surprise, the simple ask really resonated with the community, and the store had to consistently restock the cards.
In the first week word spread quickly about the store’s initiative, and soon the phone started ringing with calls from multiple elementary school teachers looking to get their classes involved.
Many of the cards include drawings from children who have visited the store, but what’s even more heartwarming, Olsen says, are the messages people have been leaving.
“I’ve read through so many of them and some will actually bring you to tears,” says Olsen. “There’s a tremendous amount of ‘You are not alone.’ And there are so many people who have left their phone numbers for seniors so they have someone to talk to. ‘If you’re lonely call me. I want to hear about your life,’ some say.”
Uplifting the community
In addition to the holiday cards, Olsen’s store will also begin collecting gifts for seniors to continue spreading holiday cheer. The store will set up a drop-off box for anyone who wants to give something small, like a box of chocolates or slippers, fully respecting social distancing and store safety protocols. The store will then arrange for the gifts and cards to be delivered to senior care homes.
“[The initiative] just keeps growing and my store partners have become very invested in what’s happening,” Olsen says. “They are feeling a tremendous amount of responsibility. Now that we have the community’s attention, what can we do?”
That’s why, on top of sending cards and gifts to seniors, Olsen and her store partners have also started collecting items for their local food bank.
“I’m at the point where I’m collecting so much holiday joy that I’m just trying to figure out how to spread it,” Olsen laughs.