The Suspended Coffee Movement: Response by Melody on feeding America.

Suspended coffee post on Starbucks FB page 28March2013Suddenly, the idea of a “Suspended Coffee” is a huge viral hit on various social networking  sites.  The gist of it is that a customer orders more coffees than he or she intends to actually consume.  The extras are considered “suspended.”  The barista can gift the suspended coffees to a customer in need.

Attached is a screen cap from the official Starbucks Facebook page.  People are talking about “Suspended Coffees.”  On, there are numerous threads about “suspended coffees.”  You can take a look at threads on “suspended coffees” here, here, here, and here.  And there are plenty more, if you use the search box.

Should Starbucks get involved with the Suspended Coffee movement? My answer is “no.”

Trust me, the topic of feeding America’s poor and hungry is one that I take great interest in.  I’m going to give you my analysis and commentary  as best I can.  Feel free to disagree.

Problems with the idea of a “suspended coffee”:

  • In real life, people don’t follow neat scripts.  All the examples on the internet have quaint stories of a more prosperous person buying the “suspended” meal, and a poorer person asking for it.  I have to wonder if the people creating these nice stories have ever met any inner-city poor who are truly very hungry and sleeping on the streets.  First off, they don’t follow scripts.  They don’t know the right thing to ask for in nice language.  And I hate to admit it, but some of the very hungry who are absolutely deserving a suspended beverage are also the ones who appear at a Starbucks intoxicated and going from person to person begging for money.  I have had it happen to me in downtown Seattle.  I know this is not a nice clean picture that we like to imagine.  But it could be reality.
  • Baristas have plenty to do.  Asking them to be the tally-keepers of suspended coffees might not work:  I recognize that the examples I give will make some bristle.  But in all honesty, I can see the possibility that a store will have a number of suspended coffees, and no one is entering in to take advantage of them.  I can completely see the possibility that some baristas will use those suspended beverages for their favorite regulars, their friends, and however they can.  Yes I know, this too doesn’t fit the perfect script.  But it could be reality.  And Starbucks boasts 70 million customers each week passing through their doors.  This could be a nightmare to keep track off.
  • The very poor and hungry need more than a free latte.  If you’re truly very poor, you need a square meal.  You need a meal program.  You need a food bank.  You may need a shelter.  You probably need bus fare to get to a shelter or meal program.  In some ways, and again this will sound harsh, this idea of the suspended coffee makes a more affluent person feel good for doing very little.

This is important:  There are so many ways to help the hungry!

You can make a difference and help the poor and the hungry!

  • Find a local food bank to donate your money or your time to. I apologize, but all my examples will be Seattle examples – but there are food banks all over the country!  If you are in Seattle, why not volunteer at the Ballard Food Bank or the  University District Food Bank?
  • Find a large hunger relief organization to donate your time or money to.  In Seattle, we’re lucky to have two such organizations.  They are Northwest Harvest and Food Lifeline.  These organizations partner directly with growers, and larger businesses to be able to receive very large scale food donations.  And then with the help of many volunteer hours, the the large donations are repacked and distributed to meal programs and smaller food banks.  Last October, I wrote an article about a number of partners who volunteered at the Houston Food Bank (which appears to be a larger, hunger relief organization).
  • Find a meal program to volunteer at:  In Seattle, seven nights a week, a person can get a meal at Operation Nightwatch.  I will say, having volunteered there several times, that is some of the more difficult volunteering that I have done.  Nightly, this program serves about 150 to 200 of Seattle’s very poorest individuals.  It’s a rough crowd.  You’ll encounter a number of people who are used to sleeping outside.  It’s heartbreaking to have a conversation where you ask where someone is sleeping, and the answer is “by a dumpster.”  Making a meal in an industrial kitchen, with donated food (some of which comes from Food Lifeline), and serving it to people who are noticeably hungry, IS rewarding.  Or, consider donating money to a local meal program or shelter.
  • Make a donation to a larger, national hunger relief organization:  If you really cannot find anything local in your area, you can always make a donation to Feeding America, a very large national hunger relief organization.
  • Carry a $5 Subway card or (some kind of McDonald’s card) on you at all times:  In my work, I professionally interact with a number of social workers.  I thought it was remarkable when a friend (a social worker) told me that she tries to have a $5 Subway gift card on her at all times.  If someone really is in need, at least he or she can be given a small sandwich of their choosing.  Here in downtown Seattle, there are a ton of Subway locations.  If you’re in a city dense with fast food, and filled with poor, consider always carrying a small food gift card on your person.  I have heard of people keeping $5 Starbucks gift cards on them for this purpose.  This puts the momentum to give in your very own hands, instead of transferring that power to someone else.  And at least in downtown Seattle, there is no shortage of very poor with an extended hand, asking for help.  By the way, I think most urban centers have plenty of poor who are down on their luck.  I saw the same thing when I lived in San Francisco from 2001 to 2004.

You can do a lot to get a nourishing meal to someone who is hungry.  And it doesn’t have to be an ad hoc system of hoping the right person will walk into Starbucks at the right time.  You can do better than that.

Coincidentally, when I noticed the  “Suspended Coffee” craze, I had been in the middle of writing an article about Starbucks  Global Month of Service which starts April 1, 2013.  I will be writing about that again soon!  In the meantime, if you are looking for some volunteer opportunities, you can check out the Starbucks Community Service page too.

I hope I have given you some points to consider in response to the viral “Suspended Coffee” movement.  And if you like this article, I hope you’ll consider sharing it in response to those who are championing the “Suspended Coffee Movement.”  I know their hearts are in the right places.  However, what sounds adorable and perfect in a short story, doesn’t always play universally well across the United States.



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  1. Devin
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 03:00:00

    I agree. While having a “pay it forward” situation is a nice thought, having it work out in reality would simply not work and be a logistical nightmare. I love the idea of carrying a $5 gift card with you and using that to gift to an individual as they can use it for something that will fit their taste/need.


  2. DadCooks
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 05:58:00

    Melody, I wish I had more time this morning to maybe add some of “Dad’s Wisdom” to your post, but you really hit the mark. Thank you.


  3. purple1
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 06:37:00

    Melody I too find it hard for partners to control this program. With lines being so long at some of the stores and with partners having so much to do, how will they ever keep track or know how to give out a drink? And I agree that I have come in contact with a few unfortunately folks that come into my local SB that have had too much to drink and create chaos in the store. I do like the idea of carrying a $5 gift card.


  4. Jennifer
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 08:20:00

    I agree that those people need a meal more than just coffee, although the idea has good intentions. I love the idea of carrying gift cards at all time for those who may need it. I’ll have to start doing that! As for the coffees, I’ll just continue to pay for the person’s behind me in the drive thru every now and then…I love doing that! :)


  5. Kristen Danger Hasselgren
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 09:01:00

    As a barista, I completely agree. It’s also nice when someone decides to “pay it forward” at our drive thru — but when it keeps going and going and going it becomes a nightmare.


  6. Becca
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 09:09:00

    Great post Mel! Here’s my problem with it: once they are a “customer” we really can’t ask them to leave. 90% of the time this is fine but, it’s the one person who ruins it for everyone. I have to call police/ambulance weekly (more in the winter) to have an intoxicated guest removed from our store. The person who bought the coffee had good intentions or they wanted to be rid of the person who was making the request. Once the Good Samaritan leaves if a problem arises its all mine :(


  7. outofsteam
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 10:12:00

    I just found out about the suspended coffee. What a great idea. Living here in the ‘burbs, not much chance of someone coming around needing coffee or whatever (at least on one will admit to it),I’ve been racking my brain to come up with something similar. The buy a soldier his meal is super but that’s been done to death, no pun intended. Food banks, church groups…got it. Anybody got any suggestions? The best I’ve ever come up with is to pay for the neighborhood kids who are watching the other kids on the street getting ice cream from the ice cream truck but they’re not. And the kids who don’t have enough to pay for what they want so I put in the rest. The parents don’t mind when I pay for their kids to have ice cream,etc. so don’t go there.


  8. Organic Fair Trade Dave
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 10:14:00

    Thanks for posting such a well thought out, reasoned opinion on this matter, Melody. I wholeheartedly agree with you.

    If someone is truly in need then it will take more than a latte or a coffee. I think the suspended coffee movement in America is more about providing an avenue for people to feel like they are helping with very little investment, be it time or money. A suspended coffee doesn’t do anything to solve the problem. At best, it’s a band-aid when an artery clip is needed. But, more likely, it’s not even that good because, as you pointed out, a square meal is much better.

    There are so many ways, as you pointed out, to truly help those in need. There are so many organizations better equipped than Starbucks to deal with this problem. It’s great that we are having the conversation, but it will take more than a cup of coffee to deal with the real problem.


    • StarbucksMelody
      Mar 29, 2013 @ 10:19:00

      One good thing is that Starbucks really can facilitate help for the hungry. Partners can get together and volunteer, and create volunteer projects on the community website. And often, customers can join in!

    • Organic Fair Trade Dave
      Mar 29, 2013 @ 15:43:00

      Absolutely! That is one of the reasons I came to work for Starbucks. I love our community service site and thank you for bringing it up to those who may not know about it. Through that site I have been able to help those dealing with food insecurity, homelessness depression, and in my district we even raise money to build wells in Africa for clean drinking water. All of these are more impactful than a suspended coffee.

  9. Katherine
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 10:38:00

    I’ve worked at a homeless shelter and I work with low income mentally ill now…and you’re right Melody, it takes more than coffee to help them out.

    Please please please support your local organizations that help out the needy. I know that, at least out here, food banks are pretty well stocked, but there is a HUGE need for household and personal care items. Please consider taking that few bucks you’d use to buy someone coffee and hit up the dollar store for shampoo or soap to donate.


    • Melody O.
      Mar 29, 2013 @ 10:43:00

      Such important points. I know that around here Operation Nightwatch loves it when people donate new (obviously still packaged) toothpaste, toothbrushes, and personal care items. A huge bag of toothbrushes, floss, and toothpaste can be a big win for many organizations.

    • Laura Northrup
      Mar 29, 2013 @ 14:27:00

      I find couponing really fun, but can only brush my own teeth so many times a day, so I pick up shampoos and toothpastes and other items to donate.

  10. Derrick
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 11:03:00

    Thanks so much for sharing this perspective! It is always great to hear about new ways to help others.


  11. Lee Bemrose
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 11:47:00

    Agreed. I said the same on the suspended coffees facebook page and have been called a “chode” (had to look it up). I believe in charity, but this whole giving-people-a-cup-of-coffee-to-make-me-feel-good thing isn’t solving any of the world’s problems.

    Then again, I am a a chode.


    • karldotcom
      Mar 29, 2013 @ 20:38:00

      Wow, that isn’t nice. Shows the mentality of what you are dealing with.

  12. Molly Boone-Jones
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 13:00:00

    So beautifully stated. Thank you!


  13. Why Ordering ‘Suspended’ Coffees For The Needy Is Stupid And Inefficient – Consumerist
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 13:28:36

    […] The Suspended Coffee Movement: Response by Melody on feeding America. [StarbucksMelody] Suspended Coffees [Snopes] Suspended Coffees [Facebook] […]


  14. DadCooks
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 18:39:00

    Melody, you are mentioned and linked in this article which appeared on today:

    edit: Disqus moderated my comment again.


    • Melody O.
      Mar 29, 2013 @ 18:55:00

      Trust me, I was very surprised to see that! Thank you for pointing it out. I thought it was a well written article in terms of discussing the challenges & problems with “Suspended Coffee.” By the way, I noticed that is starting to die down on this, but the Starbucks Facebook page still has new Suspended Coffee posts.

  15. Rachel Simpson
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 18:58:00

    I was unaware of this particular movement. But I have to agree. The first thing I could think of was that these people who actually are in need, need so much more than coffee. They need food; they need shelter; and assistance programs.
    That being said, I love the idea of “paying it forward.” In fact, some of my favorite Starbucks experiences have been when the person ahead of me in line has paid for my coffee. And I get giddy just thinking about continuing the pay-it-forward chain!


  16. Brad Kovach
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 19:28:00

    Starbucks could easily adapt to this, but I don’t think it’s their job to do so. This reminds me of the “charity card” that was circulated online as an experiment to see if people’s charity would out-sustain the demand for free stuff.

    It didn’t. I was a barista at the time, and I checked the balance frequently, and the novelty wore off quickly.

    I suspect that suspended coffees will experience a similar phenomenon–it’s a nice idea, but I predict the novelty will wear off quickly. Investing time, programming, QA and then TRAINING BARISTAS will waste a great volume of Starbucks’ resources.

    Additionally, just from a business/accounting standpoint, this creates a liability on Starbucks’ books for unearned revenue. No accountant is a fan of having unearned revenue on the books.


  17. Dan Weathers
    Mar 30, 2013 @ 04:22:00

    It is very nice to shoot this idea down and then not do anything. Makes everyone feel better and solves the problem of getting to see poverty up close in Starbucks. Sorry, but the beef here are people who are ‘too busy’ to find out about a food program to participate in, or don’t trust that the support they would give would actually end up as anything concrete for the needy. They do at least SOMETHING. Yeah, bad idea and causes so many problems, so lets not do that, lets wait for the REALLY good idea to come through…and wait..and wait..and now we can forget poverty and lets go watch a rerun of Friends.


    • Melody O.
      Mar 30, 2013 @ 08:46:00

      My point is that if you’re committed to feeding and helping the poor and the hungry, there are much better ways to do it. Let’s say you suspend a “Vanilla Latte” – The hungry man who is the “beggar” in this story (I don’t really like the word beggar, to be clear) may really want a Blueberry Muffin, not a latte. I think if you insist that this is a good approach, you should grab a Starbucks gift card, load $20 on it, and hand it to the register barista and tell her to use it for some deserving person. That means the register barista won’t have to tally lattes which must be used quickly, and won’t have to tell a very hungry man, “sorry all I can give you is a tall latte.”

      I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am actually quite passionate about feeding those in need. You’ll notice there is a tab called “Food Lifeline.” I have volunteered my time and my money. And I have volunteered at Operation Nightwatch.

      In many places, the larger hunger relief organizations like NW Harvest and Food Lifeline is where soup kitchens, sandwich programs, and meal programs get their food. There are soup kitchens in Seattle’s University District too – And I’ve seen the same thing. And there’s a meal program at Union Gospel Mission. But those places often count on Food Lifeline and Northwest Harvest for free food, along with many other partnerships.

      Really, I just think that people can do better than a “suspended coffee.”

    • Mike Simon
      Apr 01, 2013 @ 21:25:00

      Here’s the problem with your point: Most people won’t bother to do what’s not convenient. People who read your blog will just shrug and think to themselves : She’s right, might as well not try. Too many ways to game it…too little benefit to those who need it. And then what do the poor get? Nothing. Is it better to give when it’s convenient and it makes you feel good, or not at all?

    • Michelle
      Apr 02, 2013 @ 12:23:00

      So, what you’re saying is that baristas SHOULD do what isn’t convenient because otherwise people that won’t do anything else aren’t helping the poor?
      I think it’s great to help the poor, I think that giving me money and telling me to gift a coffee to a poor person is a terrible idea. I have 5 timers that go off at various intervals that require action, hundreds of customers to serve every day, a store to help keep clean, dishes to do, bathrooms to clean, sales to make and partners to support. I don’t have time to remember that I’m supposed to give a coffee to a poor person later on.
      If that makes me a horrible person, then I guess I am.

    • Mike Simon
      Apr 03, 2013 @ 10:46:00

      It doesn’t make you a horrible person, just an average one. Most people don’t do it. If this behavior was the norm, this article wouldn’t have been written because nobody would be surprised. Sure, it’s not part of your job to do additional math or keep track of a sheet with hash marks on it, but the point of suspending drinks is that you’re participating in the idea of doing something for someone who probably can’t afford to do it for themselves. Is there a cost in time, energy and effort? Sure. But that’s what makes it a charitable act, and not a part of your job description. If you think sticking to the job description is good enough, there’s no harm in it because you’re just like most other people. My issue with this article is that it acts as a chilling effect to charitable activity. You’re ok with that because it’s extra work and you already have enough to worry about without tracking one more thing. That’s fine and normal, but doesn’t really address my point. So how could it be improved so that it’s not a hassle? Would a “pause order” option in the cash register make it easier? Would making it part of your job description (ie, asking your employer to endorse the practice) make it easier to take? How could the idea be innovated so that it could be seen by you and your co-workers as a net positive?

    • Michelle
      Apr 03, 2013 @ 10:55:00

      Honestly? I’m not sure. I think I’d rather have periodic food bank collection box in the store, that way people could donate and we could take the food over there for them. Though, I guess they’d have to remember to bring the food with them to put in the box….
      I know that when it’s cold outside I have people come in who don’t have other places to go, and I know my customers sometimes buy them coffee. I also know that if it’s very cold outside and someone comes in and needs a coffee to warm them up and can’t afford it we’d give it to them for free. I think all of that is great, it’s the fact that we’d have to manage the process that makes it not a great idea to me.

  18. walterhpdx
    Mar 30, 2013 @ 09:31:00

    Yes, homeless people and people in need *do* need something more than just a coffee. And yes, I try and give them gift cards or leftovers when I’m out.

    But seriously – a warm cup of coffee to a person in need on a cold day is better than nothing.


    • Melody O.
      Mar 30, 2013 @ 09:44:00

      I agree with you on almost all points. I would just ask that you put your money where your mouth is. Don’t tell the register baristas at a Starbucks that you’re buying 2 Tall Coffees – It creates a mess to keep track of, and the hungry homeless man might really want hot tea, a scone, or something else. Buy a Starbucks gift card. Put money on it. Hand it to the register barista. Tell the register barista to use it on the next needy person. That’s gets you pretty close to a “suspended coffee” but better yet, eliminates the keeping-tally problems, and ensures that the hungry man can really have a scone if he wants.

    • walterhpdx
      Mar 30, 2013 @ 10:05:00

      I always do as I say – as my mother always taught me, “Do unto others…” :)

      That said, the Starbucks gift card is a great idea. It’d be great if each Starbucks had a card that people could just reload, but yes – that’s a lot more than it’s worth.

      Last time I tried to actually “pay it forward” in a Starbucks, the barrista refused. See, the lady in front of me didn’t have enough money, and went to go get more. I tried to pay for it, but the barrista kept refusing, and finally replied to my continued question of “Why?” with, “She had a really complicated order.” Seriously? I don’t care; She needed $0.45 (total order $5.45) – and I was wiling to hand over the full amount, but the barrista refused. Yes, that’s not part of the discussion here – but I guess it goes more to your point.

      So gift cards it is.

  19. Anonymous
    Mar 30, 2013 @ 11:07:00

    I will start of saying I rarely post comment or jump on bandwagons when then arise. With that being said, the attitude and coldness that came across in this article I could not keep quiet.

    Let’s start of saying Starbucks doesn’t mind a little conflict or politics. After all they openly support gay rights. Melody, you must be a realist is every aspect of your life. The thought of this, really irritates you. Your right, we don’t follow “scripts”, but that’s life. You know you, that homeless man in Seattle, and I are going to end up in the exact same place in the end. We will be forgotten about, and the world will go on without us. You already knew that, you’re a realist.

    This is just a way people want to help others, and though it would be diffiuclt, it is beautiful. You believe this will be too much trouble on your “baristas”, but everyone is more than welcome to buy a gift certificate. “Hey you homeless man, tip that “Barista” with what’s left on your gift card”! I will save my tip money next time I go to Starbucks, and I’ll give it to the homeless man, tell him his next hot cup of coffee is on the “Barista” at Starbucks.


    • Melody O.
      Mar 30, 2013 @ 11:20:00

      Anonymous – You and I are not so far apart from each other. But if you really want to gift to a person who can’t afford something at Starbucks, do it in such a way that the hungry man who really wants a bagel isn’t required to drink the “tall vanilla latte” that you suspended.

      Get a Starbucks card. Put money on it. Hand it to the register barista. Tell her to use it for someone who comes in and is in need.

      You’ll do a couple of great things – You’ll avoid some of the messy tally-keeping problems I mentioned, and even better, the very hungry man who wants a blueberry muffin can get that if he wants.

      I think you might have misunderstood my intent in this article, but reading intent online is tough. We should give each other the benefit of the doubt.

  20. Justin Knowlton
    Mar 30, 2013 @ 13:15:00

    I think you need to make a distinction between the poor and the homeless. There are poor people who would appreciate a nice cup of coffee but would not cause the disruption that may be caused by someone who is actually homeless. When I was in college, I wore decent clothes and drove a decent car but was broke as could be. This would have been really cool in those times.


  21. Laily Haikal
    Mar 31, 2013 @ 03:38:00

    Here’s my thoughts about the “Suspended Coffee” thing that’s going around:
    I think problems would arise when it comes to defining “needy” or “less fortunate”. I could totally see people who have everything they NEED, arguing with a Barista, telling them how broke they are & should qualify for a suspended coffee. Also, in this day & age, I wouldn’t be surprised if some pathetic person acts/dresses less fortunate & play the part just to get a freebie. I even read a comment on Starbucks’ Facebook from a Mom who stated that she spent her money on groceries for the kids & that she would be a perfect candidate to receive a suspended coffee. No joke! There are many potential issues that could arise when participating in this program. It may work in other countries, but not here in good ol’ ‘merica.

    I appreciate how people seem to want to help the less fortunate, but they don’t really need this program at a specialty coffee shop chain (which I love, btw) to accomplish that, & they never did. I agree w/ Melody; One should put their money where their mouth is; even with a few clicks online, they could help the world’s LEAST FORTUNATE people, widows, & orphans to eat & have access to clean water, simply by donating money to a well-known, trusted, non-profit organization (message me for recommendations of a couple honorable ones that I trust & have had success w/. You can even do automatic transfers for charity). It doesn’t have to be much, just whatever amount you can afford. Prioritize people; isn’t it good to sacrifice some of our luxuries, if it means we can help someone less fortunate than us get their bare, vital necessities? If anybody really wants to help poverty-stricken people, nothing will stop them (just as nothing/no one did), not to mention they’ve always had/have the option to buy and give a hot coffee to someone in need & don’t need Starbucks to do it. The fast food gift card idea that Melody mentioned, would be a much more useful, practical & beneficial way to help those in need (whether we come across one or go in search of them). Keeping a few $5 fast food gift cards w/ you will do a lot of good. Instead of a coffee, latte or even a cookie, several, hearty burgers from a chain’s value menu will do more good for a hungry, nutritional-lacked homeless person & costs about the same. I believe in priority when it comes to poverty. The human being who last ate 4 days ago, requires sooner assistance/attention/help the one that ate yesterday, IMHO. The homeless/needy in this country are much better taken care of compared to those orphans in 3rd World Countries, who don’t have a food bank or soup kitchen, shelter, etc. around every corner to help them. Another good idea, & one that I regularly use, is to keep a few new, packaged snacks, non-perishable foods, bottled water, etc. in my car (in the trunk, as well as glove compartment for quick easy reach). Then, whenever I come across a homeless/needy person while driving, I can give them something that they really need which will help the hunger. If I don’t smell cigarette smoke &/or alcohol on their person, I’ll also give whatever change & singles I have w/ me. I don’t like giving too much cash, as it could be spent on drugs or alcohol, so I think the $5 fast food gift card idea is a great one to implement. It’d be smart to get gift cards from different common chains, & give the one that you know has a location close by at the moment (so they could use it easily & quickly, w/o walking far). I hope my words will help bring some enlightenment to others & not offend anyone.


    • Melody O.
      Mar 31, 2013 @ 08:30:00

      Laily – So true. I have often thought that the homeless in Seattle are wealthy compared to people living in some third world countries. I still have compassion, and feel for someone sleeping outdoors. It’s just that we do have resources here, and there are so many ways to help – as you mentioned.
      By the way, thank you so much for going through and clicking the “like” button on so many of my blog’s Facebook articles. I appreciate that!

  22. BK
    Mar 31, 2013 @ 17:54:00

    I have to agree with you that what sounds adorable and perfect …. doesn’t always play universally well across the United States; no idea will work 100% of the time and all the time. There are a lot of reasons why it would work and there are a lot of reasons why it would. I love your idea of getting a Starbucks Gift card.


  23. jk2001
    Mar 31, 2013 @ 18:51:00

    Or just give a beggar a quarter or a dollar.


  24. Jenn
    Apr 01, 2013 @ 10:00:00

    You make a lot of very valid points in regard to potential disruptions and the potential for people to go “off script”. While the focus is on coffee it also says on their community page that “You can buy a warm beverage, or food in advance, for someone in need.”


  25. Jennifer King
    Apr 01, 2013 @ 12:27:00

    If you’re really into the idea of sharing coffee with a needy person, why not keep a few packs of Via on you? That way, you could pass out a packet, and the recipient could go ask for a cup of hot water from her local cafe. As a former barista, I think that would be much easier to handle than trying to contend with various register issues with a suspended coffee.

    I’m in Texas, though, so I’m much more likely to go get someone a cold bottled water if they’ve clearly been standing out in the hot sun all day.


  26. guest
    Apr 01, 2013 @ 14:03:00

    couldn’t agree more. (and i give to my local soup kitchen, which feeds–well, anyone really: poor, homeless, elderly; and when i find coupons for a free this at McDeath or a free that at Burger Death, they get dropped in the cups of people sitting on the sidewalk with “homeless and hungry” signs.) it should not be up to the barista to have to decide who is “worthy” of receiving the free item, either. puts them in a terrible position.


  27. Michael B.
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 13:48:00

    I think it depends on what city you live in too. I know a lot of homeless people in Austin that take advantage of Starbucks in the summer to get out of the heat and enjoy a beverage. They use what money they get from panhandling to get a drink. News of a “Suspended Coffee” program would quickly spread in the homeless community through word of mouth. There are a lot of programs out there. People are going to buy coffee, and even if they don’t spend time volunteering at the local shelter, this is an easy way to contribute. It’s not much different than giving a gift card for a restaurant. I’ve done pay it forward in the past at Starbucks for someone standing in line behind me. They were pleasantly surprised when they weren’t charged for their coffee. It takes little effort and can warm someone’s heart.


  28. ifa
    Apr 05, 2013 @ 09:06:00

    I think you don’t want to see poor people in your restaurant, right? In Europe you can suspended Coffee, Tea, Sandwich, Muffin and more, so I disagree. I will be more then happy to see someone drinking coffee, some kid or old man eating the muffin what I prepaid for. I may not meet a person today who is hungry, but he or she can go to your restaurant.


    • Melody O.
      Apr 05, 2013 @ 18:59:00

      This is really NOT about seeing poor people in a restaurant. The goal is to get the right thing (coffee, scone, meal, muffin, latte) to the right person in need. That can’t be managed across 12,000 stores as an ad hoc system. There are things you can do that will come close to it – Go to Starbucks. Get a card. Load $10 on it. Hand it to the register barista and ask them to use it for a person in need. This way, if that hungry person in need wants a scone, he or she will not be told, ‘Sorry all I have suspended is a tall Pike Place Roast.’ But when all is said and done, I think donating your time and money to organizations that really work towards hunger relief is the best thing you can do. I feel for people. But Starbucks is not the United Way. As I mentioned, you can get pretty close to a “suspended coffee” with a Starbucks gift card. That’s much more meaningful – the poor person can get what he or she really wants.

  29. wounded phoenix
    Apr 05, 2013 @ 22:05:00

    i agree with the idea of the suspended gift card. if you were going to spend 3.00 on a suspended drink, why not spend 5.00 on a suspended gift card? the best thing is that the store can keep adding the monies suspended to the same card, thus making it easier to tally, check, and use. also, no lost income to report, and no supposed sitting income to explain, just a store with a gift card, paid into by patrons, for those either broke, homeless, or whatever the situation.

    the same scenario could easily apply to other companies like the arches, or that sandwich place, etc… though since the concept started with coffee, people might not think to do it there, and carrying around a couple of 5.00 gift cards might not hurt.

    but talk to your local barrista, or even store manager about starting a store gift card, where all suspended coffee style transactions are actually loaded on that stores single card, and those using a suspended coffee transaction can get whatever they want up to, say, five dollars. this is just a thought. oh, and if youre willing to talk to the store about setting it up, i think you should be willing to make the first load on the card. who knows, some stores may even match you, dollar for dollar.

    apologies for lack of capitalization, spelling issues, and lack of punctuation… chrome is misbehaving on my phone.


  30. Stephanie Romine
    Apr 07, 2013 @ 07:28:00

    I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this yet (cuz I’m too lazy to read all of the comments) but the British Starbucks that are doing this have adopted an alternative to keeping a tally of the suspended coffees. Instead, the suspended coffee is treated as a donation that is given to a charity called Oasis. They even match the gifts. I think that would be a smoother way to do this in the US. Saves the consumer the time/energy to research help organisations and the weary barista from keeping tallies.
    The gifts can even be allocated to local food charities.


  31. Esther Miranda
    Apr 13, 2013 @ 07:13:00

    I love the gift card idea. I recognize the room for misuse, and I realize
    that it can sometimes be more headache than than helpful…but I am a
    believer that pursuing perfect should not be the enemy of doing good.
    There are enough well intentioned people in the world who will go the extra mile ( or cup of joe) to even things out. The needs of the poor are so many many that we need the cards, we need the shelters, we need the coffees, we need them all. Mostly we need a lot more daily sensitivity to what/who is happening around us.


  32. Mick Quinlivan
    Apr 14, 2013 @ 16:15:00

    I understand that some businesses feel uncomfortable with this… after all they are a business,,,,,, but I think this would work and I would urge cafes… also buy suspended coffees


  33. Ruth Inman
    Apr 22, 2013 @ 23:10:00

    I agree the people (whether homeless or hungry) need more than a cup of coffee, and I also agree that some times just a cup of coffee would be quite welcome, but a Starbucks coffee?? In Seattle that may be more common place but in other cities around the nation we don’t think of Starbucks when we want a Cheap cup of Joe….more like a diner or family restaurant. of some kind…so no, i don’t think the idea is quite appropriate…I DO like the idea of Subway or other food place gift cards tho. Thanks Melody.

    Ruth Inman


  34. nremington
    Apr 25, 2013 @ 13:19:00

    Well your idea of handing the barista a gift card still runs the risk of that barista using it on some of their favorite customers or their friends – so that doesn’t really help that problem. Also the suspended coffee movement doesn’t just work with coffee. Cafe’s who serve food also usually allow you to do it with pastry items or full meals. There are stories about bakeries doing it with loaves of bread. Additionally, there are certain hours of the day you can designate “suspended coffee” to keep those asking for it at a minimum. I was a barista at a coffee shop that served “suspended coffee” and it worked pretty well with us…. Even when the drunk and disorderly came around. Grant it, I worked in Europe and I suppose the United States must be much different. I don’t doubt people have had terrible experiences with this system. – but people who are cold, tired and down on their luck sure did appreciate the gesture when I served them their hot cup of “suspended coffee”.


  35. Elena
    May 05, 2013 @ 13:24:55

    This has opened my eyes, it is very true. A coffee will not do what it is needed really!!

    Thank you


  36. Diane
    Jul 03, 2013 @ 09:22:13

    So I found this site, when a friend sent me a link on FB about this suspended coffee movement & I googled. Personally, I find many of the responses quite selfish or self-centered. Most poor and homeless are in need of real help. THIS I totally agree with.

    HOWEVER, I find it interesting that nobody wants to deal with having this reality in their faces at a cafe. Yes, some of the more extreme cases of homeless and poverty bring out addiction and the associated behaviours, but the majority of people who are at this point, are because of the fact they have been ignored and never received the help they needed when things first got tough. For instance quite a few homeless and impoverished people are also suffering from undiagnosed medical problems that range from something fairly easy to diagnose & treat – like diabetes to more difficult illnesses like post-traumatic stress, bipolar disorders and the like. Many are coming from homes with abusive backgrounds, or have lived through some traumatic life experience. The issue of the intoxicated homeless person who may ask for a suspended coffee, and then disrupts the patrons can easily be handled by choosing to find a solution that actually gets them help. Suspended coffees open the door to seeing the REALITY of our current social situation in major cites across the Western world, it is up to us to take what we see and make our communities a healthier more supportive space for everyone, including those less privledged.

    Keeping tally of suspended coffees is an easy thing to do, as most cafes have automated registers that could easily add suspended coffee to their till & easily check in how many are given & taken. Those without automation could have two jars of suspended coffee in & suspended coffee out, that a token or some other marker (personally I like the idea of colourful marbles!) is tossed into. An easy visual way to keep track for both patrons & baristas.
    The surplus funds at the end of the month, if there are any, could be donated to a local soup kitchen, shelter or used to support any other project in the community that gives back.

    The reason I support something like this idea is precisely because it brings people back into the community who have been isolated due to harsh circumstances. When someone is really suffering, many times they feel completely hopeless and that nothing can change – a tiny bit of “normalcy” given through the “privledge” to sit in a cafe and relax for a moment, or gather one’s thoughts can make all the difference in the world.
    Additionally, it can be the doorway to opening to the charitable and compassionate nature of everyone in the community and in the business. This can only foster more goodwill in the community, that makes the whole neighbourhood a better place.


  37. Charlie
    Jan 03, 2014 @ 21:24:07

    I started handing out $5 gift cards to the homeless in Philly in 2011. Drugstores, fast food chains, and even Subway sandwich shops all issue gift cards, which can be purchased at most drugstore chains.

    The drugstore cards let those in need buy simple things like socks, gloves, and Band-aids. And the food cards let someone sit indoors and enjoy a meal.

    I understand why Starbucks would rather deal in gift cards than in “suspended” coffee. The cards are simpler. But I don’t believe that’s the only reason Starbucks is against the idea. Smells to me like there’s more than coffee brewing here. Having an extra pot or two of house blend available is not going to put an undue burden on the baristas as they fetch chai lattés for the hipsters and bankers. The real problem, from the chain’s perspective, is likely that serving the homeless is bad for business—i.e., it might alienate “paying customers.”

    But I guess we won’t know that for certain. In the meantime I’ll keep handing out those gift cards.


  38. Alice
    Jan 08, 2014 @ 07:12:26

    Disappointing to see so many negative reactions to what should be a kind idea. The problem with giving a “gift card” is that quite often the homeless have no place to store it and it will be lost if they don’t immediately run into the store to use it. It is unfortunate that so many have taken a nice idea and “call it stupid”. I have on many occasions been asked on the street for money and I refuse but always offer to buy them lunch/coffee whatever they need. However, many times there are people in need that are not necessarily visible to me as I journey through the city. Giving restaurants/cafes the ability to offer free food/beverage to someone in need because someone else has already paid for it is a very nice idea and Panera Cares Cafes offer just that type of service and they do it well. It has been severely cold all over the country and in my area especially. Shelters are not able to provide beds and nourishment for all in need. This is at least SOMETHING. Come on people and unless you are doing more, don’t squash a good idea that has a kind intent.


  39. Ngan
    Jul 29, 2014 @ 23:02:53

    Dear Melody,
    I am honored requesting permission to use this article into our forthcoming book in Japan. I am sending the details via your contact form. Hope this is right direction to ask for and could have your permission at the earliest opportunity.


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