Isn't it nice to come across something positive for a change?

Yesterday, Starbucks announced Foodshare: a program that donates 100% of leftover food that doesn't get sold in stores. Starbucks has been testing the initiative through a new partnership with Feeding America, and plans now to roll out the program to 7,600 company-operated stores in the U.S.

Great idea.

Although not all food establishments donate leftover food, many do. According to CNN Money, stores like Chipotle, Cheesecake Factory and Olive Garden all have their own programs. And Starbucks has donated unsold pastries for years.

The problem is that many restaurants are hesitant to donate unused food because they're afraid they'll be liable if someone gets sick when eating it. Many vendors simply don't realize that the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, passed by Congress back in 1996, protects most food donors from liability.

But that's not the only problem. Donating leftover food, especially if it's highly perishable, can be a logistical nightmare.

"Until now, we didn't have a way to donate fresh, ready-to-eat food at scale," says Jane Maly, brand manager of the Starbucks food team.

Maly continues:

"It's really easy to donate pastries. Everybody does it. Fresh, refrigerated food? It's a whole different ballgame. So, we invested in a pilot with Feeding America and local food banks to develop a solution that ensures an efficient, safe process to donate our surplus, fresh food in our stores across the country."

The Real Heroes

So, who gets credit for the program that should provide close to 50 million meals in the next five years?

According to Starbucks, it's the same people who are taking your order and making your coffee.

In a statement released yesterday, the coffee giant says that a number of "partners" (employees) were convinced the company could feed people who face hunger by donating surplus food from Starbucks stores.

"Like many of our social impact initiatives, the innovation and inspiration comes from our partners who are volunteering in and contributing to their communities," said John Kelly, senior vice president, Starbucks Global Responsibility, Community and Public Policy. "They saw the need for us to do more, and find a way to use our scale to bring more nourishing and ready-to-eat meals to those in need."

One of those partners is store manager Kienan McFadden. "I think it's frustrating to throw away so much food--especially because you know that there are people that need it and that there's more things that we could do with it," says McFadden.

"That food is going to make a difference. Whether that's a child not going hungry for that night or a family that's able to enjoy a protein plate that they wouldn't otherwise be able to afford in Starbucks."

Another Starbucks partner (employee), supervisor Teva Sakima, knows what hunger feels like. Sakima describes a time when her parents struggled to put food on the table. She remembers family meals as a child with very little to go around.

"Those feelings are hard to forget," she said. "Nobody should go to bed hungry. It's not okay."

What You Can Learn

Kudos to Starbucks for what seems to be a far-reaching initiative that is sure to benefit many. It's right in line with CEO Howard Schultz's vision for the company. In his book Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, Schultz wrote:

In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.

But there's another lesson that you and your business can take away from the new Foodshare program:

Listen to your employees.

Whether you own or help manage a company of two people or 20,000, your people have brilliant and amazing ideas. They won't always seem brilliant and amazing at first, because there are always obstacles in the way. But if your culture supports statements like "That's impossible" or "But the other way is fine", then you'll never know what your employees truly have to offer.

Instead, work to build a culture of improvement.

Talk to your people--whether it's in pre-scheduled one-to-ones or simply walking around the office/shop floor. (You want to hear from all of your employees, including those who are introverted or who lack confidence.) Take advantage of idea or suggestion boxes and employee surveys to inspire conversations.

But be warned: None of these methods will work unless you make sure your employees know their value and potential. If they truly believe that great ideas can come from anywhere, they'll be motivated to share.

Of course, not every idea will be a hit--and that's okay.

The key is to reward the spirit of innovation and forward thinking, which will keep those ideas coming.

Starbucks may not be able to feed every hungry person in the U.S. But if they can make a difference in even a few families' lives, then it's an idea worth celebrating.