Building community one cup of coffee at a time

April 28, 2020 by Rebecca Mallozzi

When members of the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley wondered how to transform an underused space in their building, they knew they wanted a missional space to encourage community.

Bridget Satchwell, former director of the church’s mission ministry and a current member of FPC of Berkeley, walked down the hallway with the former senior pastor towards what was, at the time, the college student lounge. Satchwell knew Rachel Taber and Doug Hewitt, co-founders of 1951 Coffee Company. Now she wondered if this could be the missional space to encourage community they were seeking.

Taber and Hewitt founded 1951 Coffee Company in 2015 as a non-profit mission working with the refugee community. According to their website, their mission was to open a coffee shop to find, train, and employ refugees and asylum-seekers from throughout the Bay Area, while simultaneously educating the surrounding community about the difficulties many refugees face in work and life. They had a business plan and cash flow projections. Their vision was clear.

Coffee would be the vehicle to see the vision realized.

“You can make more than minimum wage, plus you get tips,” said Taber, a former member of FPC of Berkeley. She recently moved to Colorado. “The social and linguistic orientation is phenomenal in a coffee shop. You’re at the center of where America has meetings. So much community can happen at a café.”

Ideal location

That’s when connections between 1951 Coffee Company and FPC of Berkeley really started to line up. Taber and Satchwell had spoken about the coffee shop idea, and Satchwell was able to share that with the church leadership.

The location at FPC of Berkeley was ideal. With a large church campus, they were able to offer 1951 Coffee Company a space facing the University of California at Berkeley campus. During the spring and summer of 2015, the church engaged with Taber and Hewitt. Conversations began first with the church session and then opened into the whole church community to determine the logistics of what this relationship could look like.

Of course, the congregation had questions. The nontraditional partnership invited the people to go deeper into a relationship with this mission partner. There were logistical questions: what would it look like to welcome another non-profit agency in an active church building?

While the initial congregational meeting was more divisive than the mission leadership anticipated, the leaders were intentional about meeting one-on-one and in small groups with people to address all concerns.

That intentionality made a big difference.

“We really wanted to take the opportunity to share the heart behind it, how this partnership speaks across generations,” Satchwell said. “In the end, we saw such a humility and willingness to see other sides of the story, and people willing to let their hearts and minds be changed. It allowed us to engage our community in such a different way and meet people we would not have met otherwise.”

Engaging with the world

Beth Thomsen, the current mission outreach coordinator for FPC, rejoices in how the addition of 1951 Coffee Company to the church property helps the church live into their vision of “Belonging in Christ, Engaging the World.”

“They’re a part of us now,” Thomsen says. “By opening our doors to this space, we can physically and financially support and welcome the refugees and asylum seekers. That feels like what Jesus would do, and it feels exactly right.”

Taber calls it a “God-moment” to see how all the moving pieces fit together: the timing, she said, was “perfectly kismet.”

“The church was instrumental not just in helping us financially, but through their networking,” Taber said. “The ways in which the church community spread out their network is the only way this got off the ground.”

After construction and permit delays, the coffee shop officially opened for business in January 2017 – ironically, the same week as a new United States travel ban that affected refugees came into effect. But people believed in their mission. Within four months, the coffee shop was cash flow positive.

By the end of the year, the coffee shop broke even. Today, the 1951 Coffee Company has expanded to a total of three locations, and people can purchase their products from their website.

Continuing relationship through quarantine

As for their relationship with the church, Satchwell and Thomsen said the blessings just keep on coming, including during the uncertain times of quarantine.

During the break of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, the 1951 Coffee Company owners shifted their focus. Instead of training in the coffee shop, they now serve as resources for the refugee community members – including their 205 graduates – who need help filling out paperwork.

“We have been able to help over 100 people sign up for unemployment benefits, food stamps, MediCal, and ensure that they have filled out the necessary paperwork to get the government stimulus checks,” Hewitt said.

Hewitt points out that most of the process to apply for stimulus checks and other aid involves online work in English. Many in the refugee community do not have computer access or the necessary English language skills to navigate all the applications. Hewitt and his team have stepped in as resources to help people get the funds they need in a timely manner.

While closing for regular business is certainly difficult for a small business, the 1951 Coffee Company maintains a hopeful spirit.

According to the 1951 Coffee Company’s newsletter, they are “pressing in” and “pressing on.” By pressing in to help shift their normal training and hiring services into casework, they have been able to help provide two weeks of pay for café employees and keep up health insurance through the end of April.

To continue to provide the necessary support for the 18 employees and nearly 200 refugee and asylee program graduates, they are pressing on in fundraising efforts. So far, they have reached $36,512 towards their goal of $130,000 needed to support their ministry through August.

Hewitt said he hopes they will be able to have at least one café open again in mid-May, though opening is contingent upon state regulations and quarantine status. In the meantime, patrons can order coffee beans through their online shop or donate to the ministry by visiting their website at www.1951coffee.com.

Rev. Rebecca (Becki) Mallozzi serves as pastor at Faith Church in Emmaus, Pa. She graduated from Waynesburg College (Pennsylvania) with her Bachelor of Arts in English and Communication and worked as a newspaper reporter before starting seminary. She graduated with her Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. Send comments on this article to Robyn Davis Sekula, Vice President of Communications and Marketing at the Presbyterian Foundation, robyn.sekula@presbyterianfoundation.org.