Starbucks FoodShare: Growing to Meet the Need

A former Starbucks barista is building new partnerships in Kingston

Starbucks FoodShare programs helps local community organization meet a growing need

When Lionhearts founder Travis Blackmore arrived at his first day on the job to find 800 pounds of strawberries on their doorstep, he knew they had started something incredible. He also knew they had to grow – and fast. Today his team manages an entire distribution warehouse moving tons of recovered food to agencies on the front lines of food insecurity, strengthening a thread that links organizations like Starbucks with people in urgent need of nourishing food.

It all comes down to Lionhearts’ simple mission: to connect those who want to help with those who know how to do it. Over the past seven years, Executive Director Travis Blackmore has helped this mission grow exponentially to meet an ever-increasing need thanks to partnerships with programs like FoodShare.

I mean, without Starbucks, without major partners, we wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t have anything to give. So, it really goes back to the heart of those partners, that they would trust us with what they have. And then we turn around and make sure we sort of hold the backs up of those on the front line.” These partnerships have helped Travis and his team grow distribution from roughly $450,000 worth of good food in 2015 to more than $3 million in the past year. Committed to zero-waste operations, they ensure that anything deemed unsuitable for people becomes feed for local farms.

Travis was professional drummer in a previous life, touring with bands for more than a decade. Before that, he was a partner at Kingston’s first Starbucks store. He still sounds surprised when he reflects on the path his life has taken. “You know, it’s amazing to see it kind of come full circle. Later in life, you end up starting a not for profit, and you become partners with one of the places that you used to work for.”

He believes it’s not just about quantity, but the types of nourishing meals make a difference. “The food quality is obviously incredible. When we get to deliver that to the frontline agencies, you can tell right away, like their faces just light up. They turn it around and then they’re seeing families’ faces light up.” Sandwiches and sweet treats are often an unexpected bounty for so many of the recipients used to just the bare essentials.

As FoodShare rolled out through Kingston’s stores, Starbucks Partners have been key to Lionhearts’ growing mission. “We’ve had people from every store in our city, managers included, actually become part of Lionheart. They come on a monthly basis as a team to help us with the meal plan and meal package preparation. It’s so moving to see that level of care.”

But the collaboration with Starbucks Partners actually began all the way back in 2015. In fact, Lionhearts used to hold their meetings at one of Kingston’s Starbucks locations. When Partner Jenny Dupuis learned about their mission, she immediately knew she wanted to help. “As we’ve connected to the volunteer community, it’s like opening up your bubble,” Jenny recounts. Today, with more partners volunteering alongside her and FoodShare empowering their work, she believes the impact will only grow. “You see the people really benefitting – it’s been amazing. And when you can re-use food, you’re giving back to people who need it but you’re also helping the environment. I have two young children, so I want to make sure they can walk into a world without so much waste.” With the rollout of FoodShare in Kingston, Jenny has been joined by Partners at eight locations.

COVID-19 makes their work all the more urgent. “Right now, there’s so much need,” Jenny emphasizes. “The pandemic has put so many people out of work.” But as many agencies shuttered their doors due to safety restrictions, Lionhearts has sprung into action, opening pop-up distribution centres in local parks to meet the need. “Here we stand, what, 17 months later?” Travis reflects, “And we’ve served over 335,000 meals to go in the Kingston area. It’s a really sobering number to realize how many folks really are struggling during this time.”

That growing need can only be met by a concerted effort from the food banks of the front lines to Lionhearts all the way through to organizations like Second Harvest and Starbucks. The mission is far from over, whether in Kingston or in communities across Canada. Every little piece can have a major impact, especially when people like Travis and Jenny connect.

As he thinks about what’s ahead, Travis stays grounded by the moments that make it worthwhile.

“When it’s received, it’s received with love. I mean, it’s really a transfer, I think, from start to finish with love. It’s that common thread through all of it. Starbucks obviously takes great care with what they provide to the public. And if it doesn’t make it there in time, then they still take the extra love to make sure that it doesn’t go to waste. And I think everyone through that chain, from Starbucks to the distribution unit like us to the frontline agency to that person that receives it in their hand, you can’t help but see love through the thread.”

You learn more about Lionhearts’ remarkable work here.

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