Coffee for a Cause
“The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are, can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee, but an absolutely defining sense of self.”
I constantly have thought about this idea while in line at any coffee shop listening to orders ever since You’ve Got Mail (that early 90s movie featuring Tom Hanks, AOL, and Meg Ryan) came out on VHS: the idea that we identify and brand ourselves down to the very caffeinated beverages we consume and the places we purchase them from, drawing upon the brand’s identity and mission to make a statement about ourselves and what we care about in life.
While the price of coffee has certainly increased since the 90s, that idea remains: There is a sense of community and identity in the shops and cafes we frequent, and the products we consume. And we, the millennials, are a generation who prefer to purchase something that has a meaning or mission we believe in, turning mere purchases into tiny donations with every swipe of our credit cards and consciously trying to distance ourselves from an inherited long line of consumption for the sake of consumption.
Not Just Coffee Consumption
The dream of a cup of coffee that isn’t merely a morning eye-opener, but a social eye-opener as well, is the idea behind Lisa Miccolis’s The Monkey & The Elephant. There, that cup of coffee is served to you by the very displaced foster youth you are supporting with your patronage.
The Monkey & The Elephant is a nonprofit café currently located at The Transfer Station in Manayunk, offering a variety of delicious drip coffees, teas, and gourmet snacks seven days a week (Monday to Saturday from 8am to 2pm and on Sundays from 10am to 4pm). That description may sound pretty standard, however, what makes The Monkey & The Elephant so unique are the staff members.
The Monkey & The Elephant’s workforce is comprised of former foster youth that have “aged out” of the system, and its sole mission is to bridge the gap between foster care and independence while providing great coffee in a supportive community-driven environment. The café endeavors to provide employment to these individuals and offers the support, job experience, and foundation of both life skills and community that are needed to succeed and overcome the obstacles “aging out” of the system has created.
Every year, 30,000 youth age-out of the United States foster care system. Due to lack of preparation, family support, and proper guidance, out of those 30,000:
♦ 33% earn incomes at or below the poverty level
♦ 40% become homeless
♦ 50% turn to substance abuse
♦ 1 in 4 will be incarcerated within 2 years
In Philadelphia, 1,100 youth age out of the system every year and 95% will leave the system without any source of income.
The Monkey & The Elephant is working to change that.
Its job training program builds upon the supportive community and network a coffee shop has to offer while also providing valuable on-the-job skills training, ranging from workplace attire to customer service to financial literacy. Support services for all foster youth employed in this program include counseling services (anger management, drug/alcohol, relationship, abuse), housing, transportation, GED/higher education opportunities, tutoring, and mentorships.
Miccolis says it best: “The Monkey & The Elephant leverages the community that naturally exists in cafes as a support system for former foster youth who would otherwise be on their own. This café gives our customers the opportunity to make an impact simply by purchasing a cup of coffee.”
Founded on a love for coffee and community in 2012, The Monkey & The Elephant started as a pop-up café at Taffet’s in the Italian Marketplace, only operating Saturdays with one foster youth employed. Now the non-profit café is open every day at Transfer Station, will be adding espresso drinks to the menu, has a growing board of directors, and is looking for a permanent location to call home (as well as eager- to-help, overly loyal people to call “regulars”).
Whether you are ordering a tall, caf, decaf, latte, chai, or whatever blend of beans, milks, spices, and sugars you feel properly expresses yourself at the moment, ordering it at The Monkey & The Elephant and supporting an opportunity at a life that can’t be measured out in coffee spoons, is certainly a positive way to define yourself – much more so than hitting up the city’s standard commercial coffee hubs.
For more information on The Monkey & The Elephant, ways to help, or simply for the interesting story behind the cafe’s name, please visit themonkeyandtheelephant.org. Or, better yet, stop by The Transfer Station, grab a cup of coffee, and ask.
Samantha Pearson is a Technical Writer working in West Philadelphia. In her spare time, she blogs, collects publishing rejection letters, and searches for Philly’s best Pad Thai. Follow her on Twitter @BlondeWords