Buying coffee for a stranger is a growing trend

Barb Sweet
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Emily Gibbons (left) and Julia Stoeterau of Hava Java in downtown St. John’s ring in lunch for a future customer as part of a pay it forward initiative called Suspended Coffee. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

Want to pay it forward? Borrowing an idea from the Suspended Coffee movement, The Telegram is trying an experiment.

Thursday, this reporter paid for coffee and a sandwich at two downtown shops — Hava Java, and Rocket Bakery and Fresh Food — leaving instructions with owners and staff to pass the food and drink on to someone in need.

We hope to get some feedback for followup stories, but the main point is to promote a random act of kindness and hopefully start the movement locally.

The Suspended Coffee movement, according to its Facebook page, has been promoting the gesture around the world for years. It’s been getting some national media play lately.

But from speaking with Rob Collins, longtime owner of Hava Java, as well as Rocket owner and sales and marketing manager Kelly Mansell, the random act is not new to St. John’s. It’s just been an informal movement.

“We have been doing it in a clandestine way for years,” said Collins, whose store on Water Street opened in the 1990s when many buildings were empty.

While downtown may now have a bustling and more well-heeled clientele with an economy fuelled by offshore oil money, there are also many people who have been displaced.


Collins said customers have often bought items for people they don’t know, maybe someone in the line behind them or out on the street.

He said he’d heard of the Suspended Coffee movement years ago and, while it’s on his radar, it just hasn’t been formalized locally, as the good deeds were being done anyway.

“It’s a fantastic movement,” Collins said.

“It’s just a wonderful idea. It truly is. In a busy day, anybody who is paying it forward — (because) everybody got stuff in their life — that’s truly awesome.”

At Rocket, Mansell said it’s also a great idea that’s been practised in a quiet way by customers.

“A lot of customers will buy for people who are outside,” she said, referring to some of the people in need who are often seen on the street nearby. Our customers are awesome. I think people who work downtown are empathetic to street people. It’s unfortunate — there is a lot of wealth, but this comes with marginalized people.”

The suspended coffee idea, which originated in Italy, allows people to buy coffee and food anonymously.

According to a CTV news report, it’s gaining steam in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.


Organizations: CTV

Geographic location: Water Street, Italy, Alberta Ontario Quebec.bsweet

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Recent comments

  • Bob
    August 23, 2013 - 13:14

    I still wonder how the real needy get the food, Do the staff at the coffee shop take it out to them or wait for one of them to come in? Surly if they have no money to buy a drink or meal they wouldn't enter the coffee shop.

  • ArubaGirl
    August 02, 2013 - 12:16

    We can't help all the people all the time, but we can help some of the people some of the time. I've been fortunate to live in middle-class neighborhoods my whole life and had never seen homelessness until the 90s when I started traveling for work. What I saw broke my heart. I didn't make much money myself, but I did what I could to help. If I saw a homeless person outside a restaurant asking for change, I either invited them to come inside so I could buy their meal or I would hand them a meal on my way back out of the restaurant. One time, I forgot to order an extra meal but had leftovers (which I had not touched or passed germs onto), so I asked the man if he'd like the rest of my dinner and his face lit up. I gave a man an apple and half of my sandwich out of my lunch bag and ended up eating on the curb with him... he told me about his life which included a college degree, decent job, then lay-offs, depression, alcohol and drugs that ruined his family. I've bought dinner for a family of 4 when I saw the father in his military uniform. It's not a lot, but it means a lot to them. A little bit of sunshine makes everyone feel better. And I didn't do it to make myself feel better, I did it because it was the right thing to do.

  • Susan
    June 24, 2013 - 13:09

    On my first ski trip to Marble Mountain 13 years ago, I was at first confused, then pleasantly surprised to learn that the stranger in front of me at the checkout had paid for my lunch. He disappeared into the crowd before I was able to thank him, and I never saw him again, but I remember his random act of kindness to this day. It's a small thing that meant so much, not because I needed someone to pay for my lunch, but because it was kind. That means a lot.

    • david
      June 25, 2013 - 09:49

      Ignoring the glaring inconsistency that you were standing in a line to buy lunch, yet say that you "needed" for someone to buy you that lunch......Your chosen description of this act is different than that of the article. It's feeding the poor. THAT is charity. When you fully intend, and can easily afford to buy your own lunch or coffee or whatever, that is not a charity situation. My point is that if people cannot discern between a selfless act of real charity, and a glib, meaningless act for a cheap thrill, the future of REAL charity is in deep trouble.

  • DRP
    June 24, 2013 - 10:02

    Do you see any politicians paying forward? Being kind can't be organized, !

  • Reaching Out
    June 24, 2013 - 09:39

    Well, I for one disagree with David. While it might be a simple gesture at insignificant cost and a short term act, it is amazing what a cup of coffee, a teabun, a sandwich, whatever it might be, can do! Not just sustainance, but heartlifting. I've been on the receiving and paying it forward end at different Tim Horton's drive-throughs a couple of times over the pass six months month and I have to say that I found it quite uplifting. It's not an organized thing...but something spontaneous and uplifting. Yes, there is some sense of satisfaction gained from knowing you did something to help someone else out, whether done anonymously or by handing it over yourself. However, being on the receiving end (and I'm working and quite capable of paying for my own), really brightened my day to know with all the stories of crime and drudgery, there are still people out there who are not just thinking of themselves...and how can making someone else smile, whether they need the money or not, be a bad thing. Now before David goes ranting about giving to those who don't need it, I and I'm sure others, have also anonymously bought lunch for someone outside coffee or sandwich shops downtown on occasion as well. I don't know them, they don't know me, but at least I know they had something in their tummy for at least one meal of the day. To anyone who has ever bought coffee (or anything) for the person in line behind them at any establishment, and on behalf of the person who smiled because they did, I say thank you! To David...I hope someone buys you a coffee soon. Now go and pay it forward.

    • david
      June 25, 2013 - 09:30

      I opened a door for a lady at Wal Mart today. I think that there's still probably more people who do that for strangers than buy them coffee. Where's the article on that amazing social phenomenon?

  • Katie
    June 24, 2013 - 09:14

    I'm sure the person who's on the receiving end of that sandwich/coffee is very thankfull for the kindness and generosity of others. I don't think this is a selfless act at all. I buy someone lunch because I think they may be hungry not because I suffer from ADD or am looking for a cheap thrill (whatever that may mean).

    • Tim Jamison
      June 25, 2013 - 05:01

      What it means is that your average person is completely self-absorbed, but it also a smug self-back patter. He's totally right

  • Robert
    June 24, 2013 - 07:56

    As has been said this is nothing new for St. John's/Newfoundland! I suppose giving it a name does something but be careful it doesn't get a little too "organized". I fancy it is the 'being spontaneous' that really gives the thing wings!

  • david
    June 24, 2013 - 06:31

    This is not an act of selfless charity, it is just a cheap thrill in an ADD world. That people think this is doing something charitable or meaningful is pretty sad.

    • Blue
      June 24, 2013 - 07:58

      Wow David something tells me no one has ever done anything for you in your entire life and you're bitter about it...

    • david
      June 24, 2013 - 08:23

      Blue: Nothing on the substance of the comment at all? Or the topic? Physician heal thyself.

    • BLUE
      June 24, 2013 - 18:07

      David: I apologize for my comment earlier, I'm quite simply disagreeing with it. I have to wonder if anyone has ever gotten you a coffee on your worst day? It's very rear for The Telegram to run an uplifting article about the smallest act of kindness such as this one (Which I LOVE!). I feel sorry that anyone should have something negative to say about the meaning behind it. If you woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, I at least hope your night is going better... Now I think I will go buy a coffee for a stranger tomorrow!!