Nothing feels better than helping someone in need. Many of us don’t feel like we have time to volunteer or enough income to consistently donate. So when an opportunity comes along to aid the homeless in a quick and easy way, you can bet it will go viral. Just like natural disaster relief, the internet has a new do-good obsession: the “suspended coffee” business model.
The program allows consumers to “pay it forward” by buying an extra hot drink or food with their regular order. The “suspended” items will then be claimed for free by a needy person. The idea seems to be traced back to this unattributed email, which has gone viral on Facebook and other social media:
We enter a little coffeehouse with a friend of mine and give our order. While we’re approaching our table two people come in and they go to the counter — ‘Five coffees, please. Two of them for us and three suspended.’
They pay for their order, take the two and leave. I ask my friend:
‘What are those ‘suspended’ coffees?’
‘Wait for it and you will see.’
Some more people enter. Two girls ask for one coffee each, pay and go. The next order was for seven coffees and it was made by three lawyers — three for them and four ‘suspended’. While I still wonder what’s the deal with those ‘suspended’ coffees I enjoy the sunny weather and the beautiful view towards the square in front of the café. Suddenly a man dressed in shabby clothes who looks like a beggar comes in through the door and kindly asks, ‘Do you have a suspended coffee?’
It’s simple — people pay in advance for a coffee meant for someone who cannot afford a warm beverage. The tradition with the suspended coffees started in Naples, but it has spread all over the world and in some places you can order not only a suspended coffee, but also a sandwich or a whole meal.
While the concept might sound great (and is indeed in practice at several restaurants), the truth is that the “suspended coffee” model isn’t as humanitarian or convenient as it’s cracked up to be.
Why “Suspended Coffee” Doesn’t Actually Help the Homeless
The first issue is spreading awareness of such a program. Although those able to purchase suspended beverages are having their Facebook timelines and email inboxes inundated with this call to action, most homeless or at-risk people aren’t on social media.
In other words, it’s hard to get the word out to the majority of people who would actually benefit from this free food and drink.
Moreover, the main focus of the idea is hot coffee. Although the drink might be welcome for those braving cold weather, it’s not a nutritious or well-balanced snack. Though some restaurants offer suspended food as well, the thrust of the viral idea is coffee – a caffeinated treat, not a meal.
Organizing a “Suspended Coffee” Program: The Pitfalls and Drawbacks
There’s also the problem of logistics. An unofficial Starbucks fan blog which examined the logistics of instituting a “suspended coffee” program and noted that the cash register system simply isn’t built to handle that type of cash flow.
Additionally, it’s difficult to monitor exactly who is receiving the donated coffee and/or food. If too many suspended items are purchased, the store may be left with a surplus that is given to preferred customers, or family and friends.
Also, dishonest individuals who hear about the program but are not homeless or at-risk could ask for suspended coffee and the barista would be none the wiser.
Finally, what if there’s a shortage of “suspended coffee”? Homeless people might loiter outside establishments and congest customer traffic while waiting for a free drink or food.
How About a Sandwich Instead? Alternative Ways to Help
So if the suspended coffee idea doesn’t hold water, how can well-meaning consumers help their fellow humans?
You can start by purchasing a few small gift cards to eateries that offer more food for less. The Consumerist recommends easily-accessible food franchises:
Look toward something marginally more nutritious than coffee: hand out cards with a $5 or $10 balance to ubiquitous quick-serve or fast-food places like Subway or Taco Bell.
You should also consider tackling some do-good projects that won’t take a lot of time from your daily routine. A few hours at a soup kitchen on the weekends or an office canned food drive can go a long way towards helping people in need. Just remember to work with registered, legitimate charities.
What do you think about the suspended coffee idea? Could it be accomplished in a more efficient way? What are your favorite ways to pay it forward? Tell us in the comments!
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