Updated: February 13, 2014 6:25AM
Even though I don’t drink coffee, I would love to be able to walk into a local coffee shop, cafe or restaurant and order a “suspended coffee.”
A suspended coffee?
Yes, a suspended coffee is the advanced purchase of a cup of coffee for someone who can’t afford one. Think of it as a pay-it-forward, anonymous act of charity and kindness that allows coffee shops, cafes or restaurants the opportunity to serve as a needed middle-man between donors and recipients.
Welcome to the Suspended Coffee movement, which started a century ago in Naples, Italy, and has since spread to other countries around the world, including ours. But I’ve never heard of this wonderful project in our region, have you?
In Naples, “customers of coffee shops would pay twice for one espresso, instructing the barista to log the paid but untaken beverage in an ‘in suspense’ chart (caffè pagato or a caffè sospeso),” according to the project’s website, www.suspendedcoffees.com.
“The barista would record what the patron paid for, such as an espresso, cappuccino or even a pastry. Paid items would remain in the log book until someone less fortunate would come and inquire if there was anything paid for or in suspense. The barista would check the log and say: ‘Yes, there is a paid cappuccino. May I serve it to you?’”
And there, at that moment, the beauty of this project is revealed. Donors and recipients remain completely anonymous to each another. Recipients are treated with dignity and no one else has to know they are receiving an act of immediate coffee-flavored charity.
In Italy, “donors would compete with other donors as to who could leave more paid coffees behind, and baristas all over the city took great pride in carefully recording each entry and serving it,” the project states.
“It’s about more than the coffee,” said John Sweeney, a young plumber from Cork, Ireland, who started a social media movement to spread awareness of this project.
Of course it is about more than the coffee. It’s about warming up someone else’s otherwise cold day. It also removes the patronizing “act of charity” that’s often involved such face-to-face exchanges. (Watch a video here: https://www.facebook.com/SuspendedCoffeess.)
It’s a win-win-win situation on multiple levels, beginning with a primal instinct in all of us to help others in need. It could be through a suspended coffee, or bowl of soup or entire meal.
We don’t have to wonder where our donation is truly going or worry if it’s being divided to pay for an organization’s overhead costs or administrative earnings. We also don’t have to be concerned that the recipients would spend our donation on booze, drugs or other unhealthy pursuits.
Plus, our “suspended” purchase also helps support the local business and its workers, whether it’s a coffee shop, café or restaurant.
What’s the downside, you ask? Although I found a few participating businesses in Chicago and Wisconsin, I couldn’t find one Northwest Indiana business involved in this project. Not a trendy retail chain, not a mom-and-pop cafe, not even a greasy-spoon joint with fiercely loyal and familiar-faced patrons. What a shame, I thought.
Sweeney’s mission is to have one-third of the coffee shops across the world supporting the “suspended coffee” movement by 2023. My mission is not as lofty: I’m issuing a public challenge to Northwest Indiana coffee shops, cafes and restaurants.
Who wants to step up and become a suspended coffee supporter? Who wants to be the first in this region to think locally, globally and charitably at the same time? Who wants to join one of the biggest “pay it forward” movements on social media, including Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram? (Maybe my favorite pizza joint, Flamingo, in the Miller section of Gary, will be interested considering that it now serves breakfast on the weekends.)
I would be happy to write a column on the first one to do so, not only to alert region customers but also to help spread the movement and encourage other shops to follow suit.
Feel free to contact me once your local project has taken off so I can pay a visit and watch it in action. Remember, it’s not about the coffee (or soup or meal), it’s about filling up someone’s emotional cup with a little warmth, a little hope and a little kindness.
Connect with Jerry via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.