Stepping Up

USD alumnus James Brennan with COVID-19 first responders at San Diego ERs


It’s mid-afternoon on Wednesday, and James Brennan ’96 (BBA) is on the road, driving to the first of the three or four San Diego emergency rooms where he plans to drop off boxes of Suja Juice for staff on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. He took a few minutes to talk about why he thinks that “small gestures” like this one make a real difference.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me.

A: It’s good timing. I actually just left Suja with my wife’s truck packed with boxes. I’m just starting my Wednesday runs as we speak. This will be our third week out there. We plan on doing this every week until this thing is done. We try to get to three or four ERs per week; it’s really just to let them know we care about them and we appreciate them and that we’re not letting what they do go unnoticed. It’s a small gesture, but it really has an impact.

They really do appreciate it. I’ll tell you this; it’s been the highlight of my week every week, thus far.

Q: What gave you the idea to do this?

A: It was something that came to mind right away. We’ve done similar things over the years with some of the first responders. Back when we had the fires and I had all the restaurants, we were cooking meals for the firehouses to let them know how much we appreciated them.

It goes a long way to let the people who are doing all the heavy lifting and the fighting know that there are people behind them who are thinking about them all the time. It was something that came to mind right away when I saw what was going on at the hospital level as they were preparing for, and then going into battle.

Q: What was it like the first time you made a delivery?

A: To be honest with you, it was a little bit nerve-wracking. You’re pulling into an area where everybody’s in hazmat suits and it’s like something out of a movie. Even rolling up today, I still have a little bit of an uneasy feeling. I’m not worried about myself or my own health, but I have my wife’s parents with us, and my kids, but I’m taking every precaution that’s necessary. There was that little bit of anxiety that I dealt with in the beginning, and still, on a reduced level, deal with today. But it was outweighed by the response.

One of the nurses who was all geared up when I pulled up didn’t even really understand what I was doing there. But when one of her friends came out and said, ‘Oh my God, I love Suja, it’s so healthy,’ it all sort of processed for her. She started crying and I wanted to just hug her. Those are the things that make you feel really good. That’s the reason why this is kind of the highlight of my week.

Q: And the poignant thing is, now, when you really want to give someone a hug, you can’t.

A: Absolutely. I’d love to give them all a hug. I know they would probably love to get one. But I think that’s probably not going to be reality for longer than we’d like to think.

Q: What advice would you give to those who want to do something themselves to help out?

A: My advice is that sometimes small gestures go a long way. If you think there’s nothing that you can do, there is. Even if it’s sitting with your kids and doing arts and crafts or delivering greeting cards to hospital staff, it matters.

In a time of extreme stress and anxiety like this, being in a place of gratitude and service is always a great neutralizer. I think it releases endorphins and has all sorts of positive effects on you as an individual. I wouldn’t underestimate it.

— Julene Snyder

Suja Juice is doing similar work in markets outside of San Diego. If you’d like to help, go to

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *