The full text of my interview with John and Shannon of SuspendedCoffees.com
Have you run into any resistance to your movement? How have you dealt with people who say it’s a foolish idea?
There are always going to be naysayers. All we can do is help educate people on what this movement is about. Our tagline is “It’s about more than the coffee” and it really is. It’s about letting people know they’re not alone. It’s about letting people know it’s ok to ask for help when they need it. It’s about letting people know it’s ok to be kind and to talk about it. And in some cases, it’s teaching people how to be kind.
To the cafes that are afraid they’ll attract the wrong sort, we ask this. Who exactly is the wrong sort? Aren’t we all human beings? Most homeless people are homeless due to something catastrophic happening in their lives. They didn’t choose it. It just happened.
Some café owners have said they fear that they’ll have homeless people filling their cafés, and this just isn’t so. Homeless people know the stigma attached to their situation, so they often come and go as quietly as possible, in order to avoid causing any problems for business owners.
Imagine having everyone ignore you. Or rather than ignoring you, they only look at you with disgust. That’s all you see and feel all day long. Now imagine one person coming up to you and offering you a coffee, looking you in the eyes, and telling you they see you. It restores a little bit of dignity for you, if only for a brief moment, while you share a coffee.
Are there any particularly moving stories or examples of how this has affected people?
There are so many. Just last week, in London, I met a lady who told me she was extremely depressed and felt completely alone. She had been the recipient of an act of kindness through Suspended Coffees and it had given her the courage to face the world again.
We get countless emails and messages from people all around the world, with problems ranging from cancer, to dialysis, to depression, saying that we give them the strength to get up each morning. They come to our page to get their daily dose of kindness so they can take a deep breath and keep going.
How did your organization start? Where did you first come across the idea of suspended coffees?
It started on the 27th of March, 2013, at 2:30 a.m. while I was lying in bed, trying to figure out my purpose in the world. I read a story about this wonderful tradition born in Naples, Italy. It gave me the inspiration to launch the Facebook page, and the rest is history!
Cafés from around the world have been offering suspended coffees long before we came along. We just brought it to the forefront. Will homeless people see our page? Some might, but most will not. The people who see it, our followers and supporting cafes, they’re the ones who make sure people know about the concept.
What has the reaction been like from the cafes that you’ve worked with on the movement?
It’s changing the face of their community, and it’s changing the people in it. It’s breaking down social barriers ranging from homelessness to successful business people because everyone needs an act of kindness at one time or another. It’s literally changing how people think. It’s changing how people view the world.
What response do you have to the article by the Consumerist?
I would love to buy him a coffee. It’s not something I could comment on in just a few short sentences. While I respect his opinion, I wholeheartedly disagree.
A few additional thoughts –
The thing about a suspended coffee is that it’s not just for homeless people. It’s for anyone in need. That could be someone who left their wallet at home, someone who’s running short that month and just can’t afford a cup of coffee, someone who’s just received bad news, someone who’s just delivered bad news, and the list goes on and on. We aren’t here to judge who is deserving of a suspended coffee. If they ask, they’re in need in some manner.
“Never judge a book by its cover” is a well-known phrase. That goes both ways. Just because they don’t “look” like they’re in need, we don’t know their circumstances. I recall a person saying they were disgusted because they saw someone wearing what were obviously expensive shoes/clothes, and they asked for a suspended item. Who knows what his circumstances were? Maybe he just lost his job and is out looking for a new one and is going on interviews.
We just never know. Therefore, we always extend kindness. We never know when we might be in a situation where we are in need ourselves.