Common Ground: From Coffee to Community

“When will the coffee be ready?” is often the first question you hear at Monday and Wednesday drop-ins at Sanctuary London, a non-profit in London that supports those facing poverty and exclusion. Delicious coffee, roasted locally by Patrick’s Beans, brings comfort to the uncomforted, and there is something even better about sharing it across the table from a friend while catching up on one another’s life stories, joys, and struggles.

Something to savour, hold in your hands, drink while chatting or playing euchre–coffee is an essential part of the Sanctuary routine for our friends from the streets and downtown community. People come when they need a friend, a meal, music or art programs, or just someone to listen. So many folks who attend Sanctuary come from difficult and even heartbreaking circumstances. Living on the street or near the river, staying in shelters, struggling with poverty, loneliness, mental health, and family breakdown, feeling unwanted and invisible and unloved.

But the rich smell of Patrick’s Beans coffee at Sanctuary London signals friendship and company, and a hot cup is often at the heart of relationship. It says ‘you are not alone, you belong, we have a space for you at our table.’ Drinking great coffee is definitely about excellent quality, unforgettable flavour, and roasting richness. However, more than that, it’s a moment where we might feel a bit safer to share our struggles, and a moment in life to dream that everything is ok.

Patrick’s Beans, a popular local fair trade and organic coffee company, brings that delicious cup of coffee to Sanctuary’s drop-ins and larger Sanctuary community. With both owner Patrick Dunham and Sanctuary London striving to value people and community, these two have developed a unique partnership by sharing something beautiful in common–both want genuinely to care for others and aim for equality at every opportunity. Sanctuary London honours people of all walks of life and especially welcomes and cares for those who are struggling or feeling less than. Patrick Dunham is a passionate coffee roaster who loves building personal relationships and engaging community through his company.

Whenever you come through the door of Sanctuary London, the smell of coffee invites you to feel a little more at home. Started by Darryl Reckman and Gil Clelland in 2011, Sanctuary continually fosters a safe space for relationship, connection, and community. With social poverty as a particularly large cause of struggle in this vulnerable community, a shared cup of coffee can make a huge difference. Whether you’re doing art or playing cards, hanging out on couches while someone strums guitar, or preparing food in the kitchen, the coffee pot is on. As Sanctuary pastor Darryl shares,”coffee is often a meeting point between two people, sometimes between old friends, other times with new acquaintances. At Sanctuary we go through a lot of coffee… there’s almost always a pot brewing! The smell of coffee reminds us of home. It symbolizes warmth and comfort.”

The rich smell of coffee matters to so many Sanctuary folks. In winter, the bite of cold and chill is warmed by coffee. In spring, as grey rain washes down the tall Atrium windows, a hot cup warms the hands and heart. It’s no secret that the coffee from Patrick’s Beans is delicious, full of flavour, and uniquely created. So many gentler roasts, traditional roasts and fuller roasts made up of many varieties of beans are offered to our Sanctuary friends and also purchased by several supporting families in our community. And now that Patrick has set up his new coffee roaster in his new company workshop, there’s no limit to the possibilities.

But it’s not just about the excellence of the coffee or the expertise of the roaster. So much more than that, Patrick’s Beans is committed to community, and a sense of home and equality, and this matches Sanctuary London’s core mission. Cards and coffee, laughter and coffee, conversation and coffee–everything that makes us realize that we have more in common than we think and brings us to the same level. Coffee brings memories of conversations, moments of shared understanding, or meeting for the first time.

The coffee is wonderful to drink, but it’s the way it brings people together that holds value beyond anything coffee beans could otherwise offer.

So who is Patrick and what is the story behind Patrick’s beans? Patrick sat down with me one Monday morning at La Noisette, one of London’s tucked-away coffee shop treasures, where Patrick’s Beans coffee was for sale on the shelves and brewing. While we listened to the clink of dishes and smelled the warmth of fresh coffee, Patrick told me he started cooking when he was 15 years old, after being inspired by his family life. He was a Red Seal chef for many years before he got into the coffee business. He was a manager at Fire Roasted for 8-9 years before finally going into business for himself, with a desire for quality and great product in a community he knows so well.

After being without work one summer, his customers kept asking him if he would start roasting again, and soon, a natural direction of entrepreneurship in the London community took over. While he was still enjoying cooking and making great food for neighbourhood functions, as well as canning and freezing at home, coffee brought a new angle to excellent quality and flavour, and a creative way for his sensitive palette to taste the very subtle flavours of roasting. Some of Patrick’s original popular blends include Velvet Hammer, Dark & Brewding, Shotgun Romance, and The Safe Choice.

I asked Patrick what he loves about his product. “Coffee,” he said, “is an easy, shared experience. Coffee starts conversation with people. Everyone has a memory of family, friends, relationships, that has coffee in it. Everyone has a connection to coffee. Stories start getting shared over a cup of coffee…” I asked Darryl from Sanctuary the same question–what is it about coffee? “I love how coffee brings people together. I love having a warm cup in my hand, and coffee just happens to be the best tasting warm drink.”

So what happens when Patrick’s Beans and Sanctuary London make a beautiful connection? It means that many folks find common ground. It means caring for our local community in a way that is larger than ourselves, and also caring for our global communities. Patrick’s coffee is either fair trade certified, or bought directly from growers all over the world.

As Darryl shares, it was a partnership meant to be, as both were caring for people: “Sanctuary values caring for people. That means caring for the broken and hurting in our own community, but it also means caring for people halfway across the planet. We could easily buy cheap coffee for our drop-in programs, but we know that this could mean coffee bean farmers are not paid fairly for their work. We also hoped to support someone on a small scale who roasted coffee locally. So I began doing research. Eventually I read an article about Patrick and his quest to make the world a better place through his 1% program … So I gave him a call, and we met up (for coffee) and became fast friends.” Patrick affirms the same feeling about Sanctuary London: “Darryl got in touch, talked about meals and fundraising, and I liked Sanctuary because the staff worked really hard to look out for those who have no one to look out for them.”

When Patrick brought his coffee to an evening Sanctuary Coffee House, he really enjoyed interacting with the people there, and getting to know them, so that his business and personal relationships overlapped.  He also mentioned that free coffee at the Sanctuary Coffee House was a nice surprise for the folks attending. “Everyone is at the same level at Sanctuary when everyone, no matter who they are, can enjoy a really good cup of coffee.” We all have equal value and worth, no matter our daily struggle, and therefore we all deserve a great cup.

Patrick shares similar commonalities with Sanctuary’s mission to care for the poor and excluded. He described his summers growing up on his grandparents’ farm and how everyone was taken care of: “there was always lots of food. People who were walking by or hungry were always welcomed into the family meals.” So Patrick grew up with a compassionate view of sharing our resources: “everyone is worthwhile; a bad situation doesn’t mean they aren’t valued. Any of us could easily end up in that situation.”

The key theme I heard in my conversations with Patrick and Darryl was equality for all: being on common ground, finding the best in one other, and valuing the other even when they are having a hard go of it. In other words, the very meaning found in Patrick’s Beans slogan “coffee on the level.”

So how do we keep coffee ‘on the level’ beyond London? Patrick’s beans are mixed in talented and experienced ways to make an incredible variety of flavours. They are ethically sourced, and Patrick imports from five different countries–Guatemala being the major source where purchasing their coffee means helping to finance their social and political movements. It helps bring focus to their causes, and also, the quality of coffee from Guatemala is incredible.

As Patrick explained, local purchasing decisions make a huge difference in people’s lives globally: “money for impact.” It’s remarkable, he shares, what a little support from London can do for people in Guatemala. And Patrick’s Beans buys directly from farmers so that 100% of money goes to them through the CCDA (Commit Campesino del Altiplano), an organization of highland farmers who advocate for social justice in their communities. Patrick lets them know ahead what his projected order will be and they farm towards that, thereby adding economic stability and sustainability. For example, this year he will purchase 10, 000 lbs of beans from one region of Guatemala farmers.

Also, locally in London, coffee fundraising programs are important to Patrick, and he gives 1% of his total roast volume back into charitable organizations in London. For example, for every pound of coffee sold by Sanctuary London, $5 goes back into their program funds. And Sanctuary is thankful for community partners such as Talbot Street Church who also sell Patrick’s coffee on their behalf. Sanctuary London also sells Coffee Gift Baskets which are lovely gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. Patrick also supports other homelessness, shelter, or community initiatives such as Unity Project and places in Woodstock, Kitchener and Waterloo.

Patrick wants to be a good role model for his children and others, and similarly, Sanctuary is showing many folks in our city how to love the poor and excluded and how to bring the marginalized to the centre–a very inspiring model. Being approachable and accessible, both partners aim for a philosophy that Patrick explains: “We all have a way that we can share… a small group of people can make a big change” and “be part of something bigger than themselves.”

If you want to check out this beautiful partnership between Patrick’s Beans and Sanctuary London, and learn more about coffee on the level, and support those who have less in so many ways, consider coming out to a Sanctuary London drop-in, or visiting a coffee shop with Patrick’s Beans for sale. Contact Patrick to learn more about his love for coffee, or contact Sanctuary to find out more about how you can get involved with their compassionate initiatives, including drop-ins, art programs, community meals, Touch of Home gift baskets, Generous Spaciousness, and their involvement in the new West Lion’s Gleaning Food Forest.

As we all know, great friends deserve great coffee; they deserve a place they can call home that feels welcoming and inclusive. And community-building often revolves around coffee. As Darryl from Sanctuary so beautifully states, “what I love most about Patrick and his idea is that he sincerely believes that everyone is equal, whether you make a million dollars a year or live on the streets with no income. We are all equal and we all deserve to have an excellent tasting cup of coffee.”

Coffee, when roasted, brewed, enjoyed, and shared comes out of a love for family and friends, and of course, a passion for coffee. So when you find yourself with a free moment in life, come out to Sanctuary and enjoy a fresh cup and some conversation! Or consider purchasing Patrick’s Beans coffee from Sanctuary London to contribute to their program funds. Because, after all, common ground is the best kind of ground there is.

Written by Debra Franke

Posted in Stories from the Streets.

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