Monday, April 15, 2019

The Magic of Coffee

Over the past 25 years, and over and over, I've told the story of our "shiny coffee pot" in the Haskell Avenue Food Pantry.  Here's how I told the story in my first book:

". . . I remember that, during my first week or so on the job, I made a trip to a local discount store where I purchased a large, industrial-sized coffee pot.  The next morning as was setting up the new coffee pot in the interview room, a long-time volunteer approached me.  She put her hand on my shoulder and asked me in a tone that mixed disgust with surprise, 'What are you doing, Larry?' I replied with great pride, 'Oh, I bought us a new coffee pot.  I love coffee and the conversation it can start!  New we can make coffee for our guests when they come into the food pantry.'  She looked at me with incredulity and said, ' You can't do that!  Don't you know that, if you serve coffee, these people will never leave?'" (The Wealth of the Poor:  How Valuing Every Neighbor Restores Hope in Our Cities, pages 54-55)

Needless to say, coffee has remained, from those early days, a staple at CitySquare.  We serve it every morning at the Opportunity Center to our friends, many of whom are homeless.  Our students brew it daily in the CitySquare Cafe on that same campus. 

Actually, coffee has taken on a life of its own at CitySquare.

Our culinary arts and hospitality students learn how to make coffee, some even opt for barista training!

Last year our good friends at Highland Park United Methodist Church invited us to open and facilitate a coffee shop in their beautiful building.   Our trainees and interns staff the food and coffee service every Sunday in two locations inside the church--the new Youth Center and more formal coffee shop setting that we've built out in Wesley Hall.  CitySquare reaps the income while learning how to provide food and coffee service on Sunday mornings.  And, the coffee shops always seem packed.  Every table debunks the myths of poverty with "fact cards" revealing the brutal truth about poverty in Dallas and beyond.

More recently, Southern Methodist University graduate students took charge of a Union Coffee popup truck during a market analysis of how a coffee shop might be received in the South Dallas neighborhood around the historic, iconic Forest Theater.  Students and community folks surrounded the truck on two consecutive mornings.  Talk about a winner!  Coffee and its prospects ignited real neighborhood excitement, and connection.

Several years ago a man told me and a group of United Way volunteers that the coffee pot in the Food Pantry "saved his life."  Homeless at the time, the man recalled coming to the food pantry daily for a morning cup of coffee and some friendly conversation.  'That kept me going every day,"  he said.  Today he is employed and doing well.

I tell you, you just can't escape the power of coffee!  Come by anytime.  The aroma feels magnetic!

Thursday, April 04, 2019


There is a "force" out there in our Opportunity Center courtyard. And, I confess, it always draws me toward it.

Very, very poor people, most without a home, a pillow or a bed, populate this wonderful space most days. Every morning we roll out the sacred coffee pot and serve cups of red hot encouragement.

There can be no glamorizing the poverty resident in the lives of these precious people. Poverty never deserves such a narcissistic response.

It isn't the poverty that draws me.

What pulls me toward the people, one at a time and in their small groups, is the heroic courage lived out day after day as each wages a battle to move on and up and out. Poverty remains a hard go.
The experts fill our courtyard every morning. Want to know poverty? Come here and ask folks about it.

When the air is chilly, as it was this morning, the magnetism feels strongest.

So, as usual, I find that I cannot possibly go to my office before sharing a cup with some friends. Several conversations ensued, all pleasant and full of smiles, as well as curiosity about each other. Watching these friends, talking to them, hearing their stories forces tears into my eyes and down my cheeks. . .every time.

As I prepared to leave, I stepped into a serious, intense conversation among four or five men who invited me to join their conversation. The focus of their hilarious conversation: March Madness and the Final Four!

Next year, if things go right, I get these guys to help me fill out my bracket with one change: everybody has a permanent place to live. I'll bring breakfast, and I know "the force" will be present to draw me in.