Dan Dewey, 65, strides to the counter of a Starbucks coffee shop in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., takes out a piece of paper marked with letters and numbers that only he can decipher, and places his order with a barista.
“Five coffees, four hot chocolates, two blonde roasts, one caramel apple spice, two hazelnut lattes, one strawberry smoothie, one chai latte, one vanilla bean cream and one mango smoothie, hold the banana,” he says cheerfully.
Dewey tends to back up the line at the Starbucks, which he visits faithfully at 10:30 a.m. every Thursday. But waiting patrons don’t complain once they understand that the silver-haired customer’s mission is to deliver drinks to patients undergoing chemotherapy at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital in nearby Pontiac.
“People ask me, ‘Don’t they have coffee at the hospital?’” says Dewey, noting that the nearest Starbucks is about a mile away. “[But] it’s not just coffee. It’s a special treat.”
The tradition began in 2007 when Dewey’s father was a patient at the hospital. Diagnosed with leukemia, Edgar Dewey underwent chemotherapy treatments at 10 a.m. every Thursday with his son by his side. One day, while the elder Dewey was hooked up intravenously to the cancer-fighting machine, the younger Dewey offered to fetch him a cup of Starbucks coffee.
“I took a look around,” recalls Dewey, of Orion Township, Mich. “There were several other people there, and they couldn’t go anywhere. So I said, ‘Anybody else want a coffee? He’s buying; I’ve got his wallet.’”
The friendly gesture turned into a weekly beverage run for patients and staff in the cancer unit and, when his father completed his treatments, Dewey asked him if he should continue fetching coffee for others.
“He said, ‘Yeah, go ahead.’ I’ll never forget those three words,” says Dewey, describing the moment with reverence.
Dewey’s dad died in 2008 at age 87, but his memory inspires his son to comfort other cancer patients through a weekly ritual now known affectionately as “Dan’s Coffee Run.”
Each Thursday, Dewey carries stacked trays of drinks inside the hospital with just one thought running through his mind: “Don’t trip!” he says with a chuckle.
Sitting in a chair and tethered to a chemotherapy machine, Janet Tynan, 50, of Clarkston, Mich., savors her hot beverage. Undergoing treatments since July 2011, she says Dewey brightens her morning.
“Normally, I would just sit here listening to all of the equipment beeping,” says Tynan, sipping from a cup of blonde roast coffee. “Dan’s kindness and generosity give me something else to think about. It’s so nice that someone else cares.”
And he genuinely does. “When people are here, they’ve already heard the worst word in the world: cancer,” says Dewey, a retired TV broadcast technician who refuses to accept money from the patients. “This place gives them hope. If I can help them forget why they’re here for just an hour, it’s worth it.”
Dr. Rajan Krishnan, 68, says Dewey’s kindness brings cheer to an otherwise somber room. “Dan’s coffee is a surrogate chicken soup for the soul, so to speak!” says Krishnan, an oncologist who treated Dewey’s father.
Even caffeine therapy costs money, however, and the gesture initially took up to $75 a week out of Dewey’s pocket. Valerie Edgington, 46, a Starbucks barista who noticed the smiling Dewey placing bulk orders like clockwork, finally inquired about his coffee habit—and quickly joined the cause. She posted flyers inside the shop asking for donations to give nearby cancer patients a Starbucks lift, loads the money onto a gift card for Dewey’s use, and launched a website and Facebook page to support “Dan’s Coffee Run.”
“Dan doesn’t have a lot of money, but that doesn’t stop his generosity,” Edgington says. “I knew if people heard his story, they would want to help.”
Dewey receives fan mail from strangers, most of whom include gift cards and an occasional photograph, such as a note from a 48-year-old breast cancer survivor from Phoenix, Ariz., who wanted to help.
“It just gets better and better,” says Dewey, looking at her photo. “I have new friends and lots of smiles.
“And I feel like I’m having coffee with my dad every Thursday morning. That’s all I need.”