ONE OF THE very, very few upsides about the recession has been the unexpected wave of good deeds spurred by people’s lack of money.
Random acts of kindness, crowdfunding, and paying it forward have all surged in the past five years – on the internet, as well as (hopefully) in real life – giving people a cheap way to make a small difference in the lives of other people.
One of these new good deeds is suspended coffee – the slightly clunky name for something which began in Italy, grew in popularity throughout 2011, and which spread to Ireland earlier this year.
The idea is simple: when buying a coffee at a participating café, you pay for another coffee or tea which is given to someone who can’t afford one if they come in and ask for it. So far 26 shops – all local independent cafés – have signed up to take part across the country, mainly thanks to the work of one person.
Aoife Ryan, a teacher at a school for children with autism, came up with the idea of introducing suspended coffee to Ireland earlier this year after she saw people talking about it on Twitter.
She started a Facebook page about it the very next morning, and in just one month has already gained more than 2,000 likes, 450 followers on Twitter, and an ever-growing number of cafés which are taking part.
“I saw the idea on my Twitter feed and immediately I thought ‘this is great, this is something that Irish people would be interested in doing,’” she says. “When out in the city and I see people on the streets or that are homeless I prefer to buy them food or a drink rather than give money, so the suspended coffee really appealed to me.”
Aoife says it hasn’t been hard to get coffee shops on board, with the 26 that have so far signed up spread across 13 counties.
What I have done is found coffee shops on Google, Facebook and Twitter and sent them messages and emails, telling them about the concept and asking them if it is something that they would be interested in getting on board with.
Two of the shops saw the Facebook page or Twitter account, and sent me a message enquiring about it and expressing an interest to be involved.
A friend of Aoife’s designed a poster which the cafés print out and display in their window to let customers and people who may be looking for the hot drink know that they’re taking part in the scheme.
Is it working?
But while it is catching on in shops and for well-meaning people who can afford to buy that extra coffee, are people actually availing of the free coffees?
Aoife says that while lots of suspended coffees have been bought in coffee shops so far, only a few have so far been claimed by people who can’t afford them. Word is spreading though.
” I have emailed Focus Ireland, Simon, the Peter McVerry Trust, St Vincent De Paul, Trust, DePaul and hostels around the country asking them to spread the word to people they are meeting,” she says. “The whole point is for those people to benefit from it”.
It is smaller shops which have been the most enthusiastic about the idea, while the big chains have been slower to take it on board. Starbucks Ireland didn’t respond when someone brought it up on their Facebook page at the end of March. But Aoife makes the point that it’s not all about the big stores. “I have emailed all the big chains,” she says.
Two of them have mailed me back saying the concept has gone to the operational teams for discussions. Time will tell… But it goes to show that sometimes ideas can take off without having the big guys on board.
Given the seemingly never-ending economic climate, asking people to spend money – even if it’s just for an extra cup of coffee – can be a tough sell. But Aoife says there’s still the appetite to help people who need it.
“Some people I have spoken to about the idea would be happier to buy a suspended coffee than give money in other ways,” she says.
“Irish people in general are a generous lot and are very good when it comes to charity,” she says, pointing out that many of the shops are charging €2 for the suspended coffee.
“I honestly am delighted with all the shops that are on board. On the other hand there is still loads of room for more of them to get involved”.