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Free food for first responders is in Largo coffee shop's DNA

“For us it’s not PR. It’s actually who we are.”

LARGO, Fla. — The news irritated Cliff Gephart into action.

“We were created when Starbucks asked the six police officers in Tempe, Arizona to leave,” he said.

Within a few weeks, Gephart and his business partner, John Tatum, had co-founded Conservative Grounds in Largo. The coffee shop’s foundation is rooted in a love for American and “traditional” values. Their first day of business was Feb. 22.

Then, coronavirus started changing the way restaurants operated. Shutdowns across the nation affected businesses, like Conservative Grounds. Through all the changes, Gephart’s goal of serving the community’s first responders never changed.

“I believe they are doing it to strictly as a PR stunt to stay relevant at this time of the coronavirus,” he said of big chains like McDonald’s and Starbucks offering short-term discounts to first responders. “For us it’s not PR. It’s actually who we are.”

On “Day One”, Gephart set a brandy glass on the counter at his coffee shop. It’s called the Hero Fund. 

Customers filled it up with an extra dollar or spare change upon checking out. 

The money in the Hero Fund is set aside to pay for the food of first responders who frequent the shop.

To date, no first responder has ever paid for food at Conservative Grounds.

Every three days or so, Gephart and Tatum will set off to a new police department or firehouse and deliver free donuts. It’s something they feel is an important “thank you” for those dedicated to keeping us safe.

“Our corporate policy is we support all first responders since day one. It didn’t take a virus or a shut down or a quarantine or what’s happening in America,” said Gephart. “We’ve been to almost every police station in the area. From the Sheriff’s Department, Largo Police Department, Clearwater Police Department, St. Petersburg Police Department, Lealman Fire, Pinellas Park Fire, St. Petersburg fire. It’s massive how many places we’ve been it’s a lot and I apologize if I haven’t remembered them all but we’ve taken them to a lot of places.”

The simple “thank you” comes from some local businessmen who want to highlight community servants. 

A giant Hall of Fame wall in the shop is covered with signatures of first responders who have visited Conservative Grounds. 

Gephart estimates there were 700 names added to the wall in the first month of business before the coronavirus door closures. Conservative Grounds is still open for carry out and curbside orders.

“(First responders) are the ones who will take the bullets, run into the burning buildings, and go fight wars. For us to sit here and live by these liberties and these things that they protect us with, that’s why we do it. Just to give back,” said Gephart.

“I know donuts and coffee isn’t a lot, but we can always do that here at Conservative Grounds and we’ve done it since day one. We’re going to keep doing it.”

If you’re a hungry first responder, you can find free food all over the nation right now thanks to COVID-19. But you’d better hurry. The deals don’t last forever.  You can get a free hot or cold tall brewed coffee if you are a customer “who identifies as a first responder or frontline worker supporting our healthcare system". But, only through May 3.  

Dunkin’ is offering any healthcare worker a free medium coffee and donut. But, it’s only available on May 6 to celebrate National Nurse Appreciation Day. 

McDonald’s is offering first responders who pass through a drive-thru a free "Thank You Meal" if you're a healthcare worker, police officer, paramedic, or firefighter through May 4. 

The chain says it’s already given out over four million meals since the program started.

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