Jim Young has been loving strong coffee since he was stationed in Germany with the Army in the 1980s, so when he wanted to explore new business opportunities roasting coffee beans and opening up a coffee shop was a good idea in 2018. During the coronavirus pandemic, Young wanted to give back to healthcare workers by doing what he knows best: making coffee. 

Young is the owner and founder of Salvation Coffee Company in Burlington. As the confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Alamance County nears 100 and the cases in North Carolina surpass 9,000, he pours it forward for hospital workers. 

Salvation Coffee established a “pay it forward” fund that collects money to go toward free drinks for healthcare workers. Young, an Army veteran, had the idea to establish the fund for healthcare workers after a similar fund was set up for Veterans Day. Young said the fund is a way for him to do something for healthcare workers while sustaining his business.

"Everybody is at risk, but our healthcare workers are seriously at risk.They're on the battlefield with this, helping people, putting their lives and their health on the line."

Jim Young

Owner of Salvation Coffee

“Everybody is at risk, but our healthcare workers are seriously at risk,” Young said. “They’re on the battlefield with this, helping people, putting their lives and their health on the line.”

Salvation Coffee is also selling T-shirts to support the pay it forward fund. Originally, it sold shirts printed with the phrase “My Coffee is Essential,” Five of the $19.99 cost goes toward the fund. The coffee shop is now selling a specific print for $18.99 with all the proceeds going toward the fund. Customers can also donate money when they purchase a drink. The fund is loaded on a Visa gift card and is swiped for healthcare workers. 

Printed on the front of the army green shirt is “Burlington Strong.” The back offers a similar message: “Stay Strong, Be Positive, Do Your Part” as well as a coronavirus checklist which includes: social distancing, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and support small local businesses.

The shirt itself is doing the final thing on the checklist, supporting small local businesses. The Shirt Lab — a Burlington screen printing company owned by husband and wife Justin and Mandie Anderson — designed and prints the “Burlington Strong” T-shirt. Justin Anderson said printing the shirt came out of necessity for their business. 

The proceeds from the "Burlington Strong" T-shirt is going toward a pay it forward fund for healthcare workers. Photo courtesy of Salvation Coffee.

“You’ve got to help yourself as much as possible and use the resources that you’ve got at hand to try to make the best of the situation,” Anderson said. “What we have here are our resources or the ability to get and design and print T-shirts.”

Anderson said he hasn’t laid off any employees, but has cut their hours. He said people don’t think about auxiliary businesses like his being impacted by the pandemic, but the spring and summer are his most popular selling times. 

The idea behind the “Burlington Strong” shirt is that they are “supplied local, designed local, printed local, sold local and worn local,” according to Anderson. Carolina Made, a shirt distributor in Charlotte, sold shirts for printing to The Shirt Lab.

According to Anderson, his company has been printing T-shirts for Salvation Coffee since Young opened the business. Anderson said he’s glad his company’s T-shirt is going toward a good cause.

“Jim [Young] had the unique audience where he could still be open to the public and he had the avenue to use the proceeds for his pay it forward fund for healthcare workers,” Anderson said. “That’s a great idea and we’re so grateful that proceeds could go to something as worthy as that.”

According to Young, Salvation Coffee has sold 54 of both the “My Coffee is Essential,” and “Burlington Strong” shirts. Salvation Coffee has given more than $1000 worth of coffee to healthcare workers. Healthcare workers show their nametag to the barista when ordering to receive a free drink.

The “Burlington Strong” shirt is only available in-store, but business is going steady for Salvation Coffee. Young said “business hasn’t slowed” and he recently hired two employees. According to Young, sales are up compared to the same days last year. 

“I’m going to hire people if we can,” Young said. “It’s just really cool and it’s all coffee.”

While business remains steady, there are changes to operation to maintain the health and safety of workers and customers.  Among new precautions are no dine-in service, frequently cleaning surfaces, a hand sanitizer station and plexiglass shielding between the register and the customers.

With social distancing restrictions, Young said he is struggling with the limited interactions with his regulars.

“It's hard because our customers, we want to talk to them,” Young said. “We want to know about their day, what they're going to go on to do...what they've been doing, because coffee is a social beverage.”

For Young, interacting with customers over a cup of coffee is one of the joys of owning Salvation Coffee.

“Just to see these beautiful smiles on their faces,” Young said. “Coffee is a great unifier, and there’s people all over the world right now that are having intelligent, loving, understanding conversations over a cup of coffee.”