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Charitable European trend comes to Ontario

Supplying a hot cup of coffee on a cold day to someone in need has become easier as the European movement ‘caffe sospeso’ comes to Ontario.

‘Caffe sospeso’, or ‘suspended coffee’, is a new concept being introduced in coffee shops around the world. Customers can go in, buy a coffee, and ‘suspend it’ for someone less fortunate. A person in need can then go into the shop and receive that suspended coffee for free.

Homegrown Hamilton in Hamilton is one of the first shops in Ontario to adopt this new idea.

“We’ve always given out coffee before, just because we are a very community minded, socially conscious place,” said owner Tim Lidster.

He said Homegrown Hamilton tries to encourage people to donate and inquire by putting up signs, adding that the shop has seen a surprising amount of success with suspended coffee.

“I’d say we hand out at least 10 to 15 coffees a day,” Lidster said. Many customers have also begun to suspend soup orders, he added.

Despite the best efforts of those participating in the suspended coffee movement, some have concerns about its popularity. More specifically, there’s concern about it becoming popular in Toronto – a city with a significantly larger homeless population.

Nolan Murray is in the Community Worker program at George Brown College, and volunteers with the homeless community at the All Saints Church-Community Centre in Toronto. He sees the project’s potential, but said its success depends on how well it’s implemented.

“It can be beneficial as long as its targeted to help the community, and not for advertisement purposes,” he said. “Programs like this are, unfortunately, often used as more of a marketing approach for people who want to make themselves feel better.”

Murray said at the community centre, participants have to pay a minimum of 25 cents for their coffees, and he thinks it’s been beneficial.

“Like most within society, the homeless population likes to pay for what they receive,” he said. “It allows them to be self-sufficient.”

Murray said despite the cons, a number of people in the homeless community would likely be interested in the suspended coffee program.

Cathy Crowe is a street nurse in Toronto, and has been a strong advocate for the homeless since 1988. She co-founded the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee and volunteers as the executive director. She said it’s unlikely that suspended coffee will do much for the most serious issues facing the homeless.

“I think this effort will be a nice idea but certainly won’t make a dent in the hunger, malnutrition or desperation that our homeless experience,” she said.

Lidster said he understands why coffee shops in Toronto might be nervous to offer this service, but believes the pros outweigh the cons.

“I can see them having concerns about being taken advantage of,” he said. “If they’re willing to try it though, it’s really just a nice little way to provide someone in need with something warm to drink.”

By Kara Matthews