Bridging the gap with coffee

Red Deer’s street population might seem a world removed from other people in the city’s downtown. But Amanda Gould thinks a gift of coffee can narrow that gap.

Red Deer’s street population might seem a world removed from other people in the city’s downtown. But Amanda Gould thinks a gift of coffee can narrow that gap.

The executive director of the Red Deer Downtown Business Association is helping to bring Suspended Coffee to the city. Already common across Canada and elsewhere in the world, Suspended Coffee refers to the practice of buying a hot beverage — usually anonymously — for someone else to enjoy.

“You can go to the coffee shop, buy your normal coffee, and then you can buy another one,” said Gould, explaining that the purchaser is issued a token for the second, unconsumed coffee that they can leave in a collection box or give to someone else.

Quenched International Coffee House, Café Millennium and City Roast Coffee all plan to participate, she said.

Cafe Pichilingue — which has been sold and is scheduled to close today — is already operating its own Suspended Coffee program. Owner Penny Elliott discussed the initiative with The Leadership Centre of Central Alberta, which in turn shared the idea with several of its alumni — including Gould.

“We just decided to take advantage of that and expand on it,” said Gould. “It’s been really easy to do.”

Tokens and cash left at participating coffee shops will be given to Red Deer’s Safe Harbour Society, which will pass them along to clients and others in need.

“It’s not just the homeless who are going to benefit from it,” said Gould. “It’s people who are just managing to get their foot back on the first rung of the ladder: it could be young moms or people in subsidized housing.”

She also likes the idea of creating something that people can hand to members of the street-involved population without worries that it will be used to buy drugs or alcohol.

“They’ve now got the option to give them something.”

Gould thinks the Suspended Coffee program will reduce the apprehension of those who are approached for handouts, and generate business for the coffee shops.

“Anybody from Red Deer could now end up with one of these tokens, which brings more people downtown.”

The city’s expanded Suspended Coffee program should begin shortly, she said.

“We’re just waiting for the tokens to come in, so hopefully it’s all going to be up and running in the next week to 10 days.”

The program received a boost this week, when more than $1,100 was raised for it at The Leadership Centre’s 2014 Leadership Conference.

Linda Wilson, the centre’s executive director, praised the initiative as a positive way to help street people and others in need.

“It’s a way to still have dignity, for those people,” said Wilson, adding that the donors benefit as well.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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