Community, a call home, and a cup of coffee: Connecting with the American Red Cross
Every day across America, brave men and women answer our nation’s call to serve in the United States Armed Forces. These heroes and their families assume great responsibility and face challenges unique to military life, including multiple deployments, separation from loved ones, and risk of injury and death. For 140 years, the American Red Cross has served military members and their families by helping them prepare for, cope with and respond to the challenges of military service.
Much like Caribou’s core value to Support One Another, the Red Cross ensures that service members, veterans and their families never face the difficulties and challenges of military service alone. That’s why this Memorial Day, we honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. We’re proud to partner with the American Red Cross to support and strengthen military communities. Visit a Caribou Coffee on Memorial Day (May 30) and Caribou will donate 25 cents from every transaction to the American Red Cross to support military members and their families.
To kick off our partnership, we invited a group of wonderful individuals with unique connections to the American Red Cross and their Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program to visit our headquarters in Brooklyn Center, Minn. and share their stories with us over a cup of Caribou Coffee. Their experiences and stories about acts of kindness (both big and small) that they have received and given through the Red Cross is something Caribou is proud to support.
A retired member of the National Guard and Army, Jeff Kazel knows firsthand the power of receiving help and resources both overseas and back at home.
Just after getting married, Jeff was deployed in Bosnia. While being away from his wife and family was hard enough, it was made even more difficult when someone smashed a window at his home. Jeff received the news through the American Red Cross Hero Care Network, which provides emergency communications and critical services to military members, veterans and their families all over the world 24/7.
“It was violating. Terrifying. Being 5,000 miles away and not being able to do anything to help my wife… The Red Cross was there. That type of help is so important for families. The Red Cross is your connection to know your loved ones are safe. They fixed our window the very next day.”
Years later, now as the SAF Program Director for Minnesota and Dakota regions, Jeff knows that big or small, sparking a chain reaction of good is always the goal. On a recent trip to visit a Veterans Affairs (VA) clinic, Jeff noticed a worker at the airport who seemed to be having a bad day. “I was waiting for my flight, and I saw this woman cleaning the bathroom. It was a mess, and I could tell she was tired and frustrated.”
Jeff asked himself, “What could help this woman in this moment?”
Caribou Coffee, in fact.
Jeff purchased a cup for himself, and one for the airport worker. “I said to her, ‘I know you’re having a bad day, and I hope this makes it better.’” She let out a sigh, acknowledged that it had been “one of those days,” and accepted the coffee.
“It makes bad days better,” Jeff said.
Like Jeff, Neela Aryal also received support from the Red Cross emergency communication services.
“Five years ago, my husband was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, and he was given six months to live… At the same time, my son was being recruited by the National Guard, and he needed to go to Fort Benning for training. But once he learned of his dad—his papa’s—diagnosis, he didn’t want to go.”
But his papa insisted, and he went. As time progressed, the hospice nurse insisted Neela call her son at Fort Benning. “I had a mountain of burden, not knowing what the next step would be,” Neela explained.
But the nurse quickly assured her, “No, it’s not your burden. It’s Red Cross’s.”
Through the help of the Red Cross Hero Care Network, Neela’s son was able to make it home.
“Why am I so grateful to the Red Cross? Because without their help, my son would not have been able to say goodbye. If it weren’t for the Red Cross, my son would not have been able to tell his papa that we would all be okay.”
Neela will never forget what the Red Cross has done for her family.
“The hope they gave me. The compassion they provided. In the nick of time. I will never forget that…I do miss my husband. Nothing will replace that love of him. But knowing that there are people who step up and help—that is why I am so driven with my work at the Red Cross.”
Neela now serves as the Executive Assistant for the Red Cross Regional Chief Executive Officer of the Minnesota and Dakotas Region. For Neela, coffee is a reminder that life will be okay. “You become relaxed the moment you drink it. Seeing this all come full circle—the connection between the Red Cross and Caribou…it’s an amazing experience.”
Kelvin McCuskey, Chief Master Sergeant and Superintendent of the 148th Fighter Wing Medical Unit, agreed. When deployed, his team had Caribou Coffee K-Cups. “It was always a taste of home.”
“People don’t even realize how much coffee impacts your life. It blends in with your daily routine,” Neela chimed in.
“The Red Cross doesn’t get to be as big as we are without community partners,” explained Regional Philanthropy Officer Kirstin Tracy. “Service to the Armed Forces isn’t as well-known. The Red Cross is known for disasters, hurricanes, and blood drives. But our founder Clara Barton is where SAF blossomed from. We help military members and families know they aren’t alone and there’s an outreach network here.”
While for some, Memorial Day is busy with barbeques and golf outings, we’d like to encourage our guests to reflect on the reason for the season. Connect over coffee. Listen to stories. Support one another. Talk about the hard things. This partnership was developed with Caribou’s brand purpose in mind, to create day-making experiences that spark a chain reaction of good. Caribou guests will be pleased to know their purchase on Memorial Day starts a ripple effect of good deeds in supporting military members and their families.
Coffee might not change the world, but the people that are meeting over it just might.