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May 6, 2013 at 6:00 AM

‘Suspended coffee’ comes to Seattle

Token photo courtesy of The Essential Baking Company

Photo courtesy of The Essential Baking Company

Brother, can you spare a dime (or a few dollars) for a cup of coffee? Even if you don’t know exactly who will drink it in the end?

It’s called a “suspended coffee,” where a customer buys an extra cup of joe that a business will give to a future customer in need. The movement apparently originated in Europe long ago and has been making a worldwide comeback. (It may sound like an urban legend, but it passes the Snopes test.) A Portland shop started it up in March, and now the Wallingford branch of The Essential Baking Company is beginning its own version.

Ashley Mengoni, the Wallingford cafe’s manager, set up “The Essential Baking Sospeso (Suspended Coffee) Project,” where customers can buy a token for an extra cup of coffee for a future stranger and put it in a jar at the counter. People in need will be able to take a token and redeem it for a free cup.

“The kindness of people giving back is really inspiring,” Mengoni said.

She had heard of the idea from a Facebook post, and had also been inspired by the “Homeless in Seattle” page run by architect Rex Hohlbein, who showed her how “the littlest things” in addition to bigger things, make a difference in people’s lives. Her staff at the cafe — “we’re like a family” — was game, and Essential owners (whose other community projects include supporting the Mary’s Place shelter for women and children) signed off on it. Hohlbein, on the Homeless in Seattle page, called the plan “a beautiful way to help connect community.”

The “suspended” idea has spurred plenty of debate since the idea went viral, with questions about whether it’s logistically practical, whether people would abuse the system, and whether the money would be better spent other ways, such as giving it to food banks. (Here’s one cogent post from a Seattle Starbucks-watcher.)

Far from being abused, though, Mengoni said the only issue since starting the program a few days ago is that no one has redeemed a token yet on her own shifts. She’s trying to get the word out more to people in need that they’re available. And she agrees that people who are homeless or generally in need could use more than a cup of coffee. Next up for debate: Whether the cafe could add an option to use the tokens for food as well. A lot of people, as it turns out, weren’t just willing to pay a coffee forward, “a lot of people are wanting to do more.”

Interested in seeing the project firsthand? The Wallingford cafe is at 1604 N. 34th St. Judging from the initial response — the Homeless in Seattle post on the project has already been shared 40 times — I suspect other cafes will join in too. Will you?

Comments | Topics: Ashley Mengoni, Homeless in Seattle, Rebekah Denn


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