I think the first time I realized that coffee is a luxury was the first time I went to an emergency food pantry. I knew they wouldn't have a lot of the stuff I would buy if I had money, especially fresh produce and dairy products, but we were broke, so I deeply appreciated whatever they could provide to help me feed my kids. Realizing that I would be going without coffee for a few weeks, my gratitude slipped for a minute, but I managed to bounce back.
Now as a regular volunteer, I see that coffee is rarely donated. When some does show up, it gets snapped up with the glee of a kid at Christmas. I often find myself wishing I'd brought more items to donate -- pet food and coffee top my list.
I've learned to shop carefully for coffee. With a tight budget, I can't just pick up an expensive bag of beans with the important "Fair Trade" emblem. But I can't allow myself to save a dollar or two and buy coffee that is grown and harvested by child slaves in Africa, or purchased from poor farmers at an unfairly low price that locks them into a life-long cycle of poverty. I've settled on San Francisco Bay Coffee (owned by Rogers Coffee). They are committed to fair business practices and to the environment, they support issues that are dear to my heart, they're not terribly expensive, and they're available at Costco.
When we do a meal under the bridge downtown, we always run out of coffee. Getting a hot cup of coffee with their food is a marvelous gift for the people living on the street. I wish I could be out there every day with a huge pot. I don't own a huge pot anymore, but hope to get one again soon. When this brownie thing raises enough money, I want to show up at one of the bigger camps downtown (there's one on West Burnside) around 7:00 in the morning, before folks feel the need to start foraging in trash cans for food, and hand out scrambled eggs, hot biscuits, and coffee. I know, I have odd wishes. But once you've started meeting a basic human need and feeling the gratitude of the people doing without just about everything, you get hooked on it. It's fundamentally selfish of me.
If you're donating food to an emergency pantry this holiday season, please consider including some ground coffee. Or we'll do it for you if you prefer to make a donation to Benefit Brownies. And if you frequent a favorite coffee house, please ask them to consider starting a Suspended Coffee program, wherein customers can include an extra cup in their orders, and when someone who can't afford to pay comes in, they are given that pre-paid cup. I guarantee these actions will warm your heart twice as much as your cup of coffee does.