If it was up to Kirk Tobias, his mobile coffee shop start-up, Fleets Coffee, would be up and running, serving commuters at several GTA transit stations by now.
But 2020 had other plans.
“One month before we were supposed to launch,” Tobias told Global News one afternoon, “… after signing a commercial agreement with Metrolinx to go in five stations, the pandemic hit and our world changed drastically.”
Foot traffic at GO stations plunged by 95 per cent, and so did Tobias’ main source of revenue. His brewing coffee truck businesses suddenly ground to a halt.
“We made the hard decision to exit the stations temporarily until GO train passenger traffic picks up,” said Tobias.
But that still left his fleet of coffee trucks just sitting there, parked and unused. That’s when Tobias had an idea — to shift from serving up shots of espresso to a different kind of shot.
“I was so frustrated the night that we couldn’t get our team inoculated,” said Tobias.
Despite his office in Vaughan being in a postal code identified as a COVID-19 hot spot, Tobias couldn’t get his employees vaccinated because of where they lived. So he decided to offer up his fleet and other assets for free — giving away “our vehicles, our fuel, our drivers and I guess our insurance” Tobias said, to partner up with Michael Garron Hospital in East York to bring vaccines to the people.
“We load all the [medical] equipment onto the truck and we take our truck to the site,” said Tobias. “That includes the needles, computers and antiseptic, and we handle all the logistics.”
Some days, his trucks function as mobile vaccination clinics, transporting front-line health-care workers and vaccines to COVID-19 hot spots.
“We will transport [the vaccines], but they use their own cooling devices to ensure that they’re kept at the right temperature for inoculation on that day,” said Tobias. “We will go to maybe three or four buildings and set up … and people will come out of the building get inoculated right there, wait 15 minutes and go about their day.”
Other days, Tobias will show up to a fixed vaccination clinic to hand out coffee freebies to staff and to those who lined up for their shot — part of a new campaign he’s launched called Jab and a Java.
“With the second round of vaccinations, we wanted to create an incentive for people who are a little bit leery [about getting the jab],” said Tobias.
“Our goal is to deliver 15,000 free cups of coffee with 15,000 inoculations.”
“We are financially not in great shape and so we have been in the market looking for a corporate sponsor that wants to help us deliver this and I’m really really excited to say, we’ve already raised 40per cent of the dollars needed to deliver 15,000 cups of coffee.”
With upwards of 13,000 inoculations done already through these pop-ups, Phillip Anthony, manager for the East Toronto Vaccination Strategy at Michael Garron Hospital, says Fleets Coffee’s contributions are helping to save lives.
“They were able to facilitate us holding more clinics just based on how they were willing to help deliver our supplies,” said Anthony. “It’s just what the city needs right now, it’s just what the country needs right now — people stepping up who want to make a difference.”
As for why he does it when he’s already in a financial hole, Tobias says it’s his way of swinging back at a pandemic that tried to take everything away.
“Since we started doing these vaccination clinics, everybody on our team — huge smile on their face,” said Tobias.
“They come home at the end of the day feeling amazing about our business, contribution and the difference we’re making and you can’t pay for that kind of feeling. We’re really, every day, one step and one jab closer for getting back to normal.”
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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