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Chicago homeless sell coffee

Submitted on Mon, 03/19/2007 – 13:03.

Story by Aisha Qidwae

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

is putting dollars into the pockets of the homeless by offering them
jobs selling coffee at farmers market, stores and restaurants in

The coalition’s Café-Fair Trade Project
doesn’t make a profit; instead it raises awareness of the advocacy
group and homelessness. The project’s earnings for 2006 came to
$36,287. The coffee sold last year covered half its cost, with expenses
totaling $73,671.

Debbie Evans, co-owner of Celtic Knot,
a restaurant in Evanston, said selling the coalition’s coffee is
raising awareness of homelessness in the city. Celtic Knot is the
largest customer, so far purchasing 700 pounds of the $10 per pound
coffee since the restaurant began buying from the project two years ago.

Anne Bowhay, spokeswoman for the homeless coalition, said the
project isn’t a business enterprise: “The point of the project is
community outreach.”

Part-time workers, all homeless, earn $10 an hour selling the
coffee. “People do it as a way to be involved with the coalition and
earn some extra money,” Bowhay said.

Eventually, the coalition plans to open a café to showcase art, music and poetry created by Chicago’s homeless.

Project coordinator Jose Vasquez, who used to be homeless, said the
busiest time is from May to October, when the coffee is sold at five
farmers’ markets in and around the Loop. Last year during that time,
the coalition sold 1,929 bags.

The Café-Fair Trade project buys the organic coffee beans from Just
Coffee of Madison, Wis., which purchases it from Latin America. The
coalition’s workers grind, bag and label the coffee, sold in blends of
Nicaraguan, Guatemalan and Ethiopian (dark, medium and light roast
coffee) for $10 a pound. The decaffeinated Peruvian-Mexican blend sells
for $12 per pound.

Evans of Celtic Knot said the coalition’s coffee is overpriced and
that normally she would pay $5 per pound – haf the amount the coalition
charges. But the restaurant keeps buying the coffee to help the
homeless in Chicago and to pay tribute to the founder of the 6-year-old
coffee project, John “Juancho” Donahue.

Naowna Simon, co-owner of Art Effect,
said her store sells the coffee because she and her business partner
want to give back to the community. She estimates that from February
2006 until this February, the store sold about 224 pounds of the coffee.

“I didn’t have high expectation quality wise, but I was pleasantly
surprised,” said Simon, who first bought the coffee at a farmers’
market. “I just bought it for the cause, then I found it was actually

About 21,000 people were reported as being homeless in a study done
late last year by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the
University of Illinois at Chicago‘s Survey Research Laboratory. The
study counted people as being homeless if they were staying in
shelters, living on the streets or in abandoned buildings, or
temporarily bunking with family and friends.

Nationwide, about 754,000 people on any given night are homeless,
according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Housing and
Urban Development.

audio café-fair trade project chicago coalition homeless

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