Walls of Kindness

A Wall that Unites

People typically build walls to separate. But in late 2015 a few enterprising ambassadors of kindness built a new kind of wall–one that brings people together. They are “Walls of Kindness.” The first reported Wall of Kindness was constructed in December 2015 in Mashhad, Iran(1). The idea has since spread to dozens of other countries.

The idea is simple. Someone finds a suitable wall in the community, decorates it, puts up a few hooks, and then puts up a sign that says, “If you don’t need it, leave it. If you need it, take it.”(1) Next the builders post about the wall on Facebook and Twitter, informing the community about the new wall. People in the community then begin to leave their unneeded clothing, food, shoes, and other items. People in the community who need it, take it.

Even though it started in the Middle East, Walls of Kindness can benefit the community in any region. Even though the walls have nothing to do with Islam or Christianity or Judaism, almost all religions can support them. Even though Walls of Kindness are not linked to any political movement or ideology, it is an idea that almost all political groups can support.

Perhaps the Best Community-Driven Idea since Suspended Coffee

Like Suspended Coffee, Walls of Kindness are a direct grassroots community-oriented charity. Literally, the only intermediary between donor and recipient is a wall. Members of the community can put items on the wall that they no longer need. People in need in the community, can then simply take them.

Like Suspended Coffee, this new charity has also also evolved similar community-based spin-offs, like open refrigerators, where people can simply leave food for the hungry. While initially designed to provide warm clothes to help less fortunate Iranians survive the harsh winter(1), wall gifts now include shoes, food, books, toys and other sundry items.

Walls of Kindness are Local, but quickly Becoming Global

Walls of Kindness are a perfect local effort. People in the community put up the wall. People in the community donate items on the wall. People in the community receive the items. Everything stays in the community.

Yet, the idea has become so popular it is quickly becoming a global movement. Walls are prominent in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Greece, Iraq. Greece in particular has embraced this idea. Embroiled in an economic crisis many Greeks are turning to more basic community oriented support systems like Suspended Coffee and Walls of Kindness. A few walls have even been set up in the USA, Spain, France and Italy.(2)

Initial reports suggest this idea has been very successful. The walls have not become magnets for terrorists and crime. The fridges are still intact are stocked with food. Recipients seem to be taking only what they need. Even in Kabul, Afghanistan, a wall which initially met with resistance due to security concerns is still thriving.(4)

A few minor issues have arisen. The wall in Kabul remained bare until the wall’s creators went out into the community asking for donations. There were a couple walls which local Chinese governments in Kunming and Zhanjiang reportedly had to shut down, because too many donations had turned the walls into giant mountains of kindness. (6) Such issues can be resolved by adding a few basic conditions. For example, if the hooks or hangers are full, request donors return later. Overall, though, the walls are an amazing global success, and growing.

Be a part of the best idea since Suspended Coffee by sharing this idea on social media and maybe even setting up a #WallofKindness in your community.

1. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/14/irans-walls-of-kindness-offer-help-to-the-homeless
2. http://articles.philly.com/2016-04-11/news/72212972_1_greece-greeks-racks
3. http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/22/middleeast/walls-of-kindness-iran/
4. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/25/world/asia/afghanistan-wall-of-kindness.html
5. http://en.iranwire.com/features/6994/
6. http://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/1913459/chinas-walls-kindness-quickly-become-mountains-rejects

Suspended Coffees– Still going strong

global map of places that offer Suspended Coffee
global map of places that offer Suspended Coffee

Snapshot from June 2016. Click here to search for a cafe

From a Facebook Meme to a Global Movement 2013-2016

In March 2013, just before Easter, Suspended Coffee was little more than a viral Facebook meme of an old Italian tradition– Caffè Sospeso. From different parts of the world, a diverse group of individuals latched onto this amazing idea. Some created websites, some created Facebook pages, some wrote news articles, and some just started asking their local businesses to offer Suspended Coffee.

The image above shows where the idea stands today. Not bad for 3 years!

How the Suspended Coffee movement evolved

After the initial rush of interest, the movement consolidated and John Sweeney emerged as the leader and Chief Kindness Officer of the movement. His Facebook Page amassed a respectable 300,000+ followers. He next built a website, which is now the primary hub of the movement with a searchable database of over 2000 places that offer Suspended Coffee.

John gave an inspiring Tedx talk a year ago on the importance of kindness. He has run a few crowdfunding campaigns to raise money for his website and other efforts. Huffington Post, NPR, Upworthy have all featured Mr. Sweeney and Suspended Coffee. His dedication and hard work have are the main reason Suspended Coffee is thriving.

Others have continued the movement at local and national levels. Greece is experiencing a resurgence of interest due to the work of some dedicated students. There are a couple other websites dedicated to this idea, other Facebook pages, and an untold number of nameless individuals quietly working to make this an international phenomenon.

Fighting crime with Suspended Pizza

Suspended Coffee has spilled over into other types of food and services. Notably, Rosa’s Pizza in Philadelphia started offering pizza suspended-style. In 2015 Rosa’s customers were feeding 30-40 needy people a day, or about 10% of the business. According to Rosa’s owner, Mason Wartman, his customers have told him that the the warm meals prevent them from engaging in petty crime to get food.

“I knew it saved people money,” Mr. Wartman said. “I hadn’t considered that it stopped people from committing crime.” from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Suspended Pizza even made its way back to Italy, the birthplace of Caffè Sospeso, where some restaurants now offer Pizza Sospeso.

Fighting Economic Turmoil in Greece

In November 2015, Dimitris Panelis and a group of students at the Delos School of Dramatic Arts in Greece made a short video. It not only went viral, it appeared on local news programs.  The enterprising students have inspired over 200 establishments in Greece to participate.  They are trying to broaden the movement to not only serve the homeless, but the unemployed, poorer students, and senior citizens on restricted income.  They are also expanding into other businesses “fast-food establishments, bakeries, patisseries, butcher’s shops and even hair salons.” –Ekathimerini

This highlights one of the little recognized benefits of Suspended Coffee. Purchasing a Suspended Coffee (or other item), not only helps a person in need, it also supports a local business, including the employees who depend in it for income. This makes it ideal for helping communities to weather economic crises. The community’s most vulnerable get support. The money stays local and supports local businesses. The community and local economy grow stronger. Win-Win-Win.

Far beyond anything I could have imagined

I knew this was a good idea that first day I read that Facebook post, but never could I have imagined how this would take off. That first night when I was frantically throwing together this website to provide tools and a voice for this revolutionary idea, I only knew I had to do something. I had an inkling of the idea’s power when my flyer appeared in a news show in Australia less than a week after I created it. Even then I would not have imagined the thousands of businesses around the globe that have embraced this.

I can’t wait to see what happens to Suspended Coffee in another three years.

New video explains the basics of Suspended Coffee

Here is a cute, informative video from the UK that explains the basics of Suspended Coffee. Please share it with your friends, family, and friendly neighborhood coffee shops to help spread the word.

Suspended Coffee from Mummu on Vimeo.

A short viral to help spread the word of the goodwill initiative Suspended Coffee, offering a warm cuppa to those in need.

Please share to help spread the word.

Production Company: Mummu
Director: Karl Hammond
Animation Assistant: Alberta Torres

Music production and sound design: Room-24 Studios
Voice Over: Martin Allanson


2 New Tools to Promote Suspended Coffee to Businesses

Women and man holding cups of coffeeA big thank you to Malcolm Grant in Australia (I love how this movement is so international), who has kindly created a beautiful informational Suspended Coffee Handout that Suspended Coffee supporters (or fanatics) can use to introduce the idea to businesses.  The file is in Word so people can print it out and tweak it as they like.  It’s in a tri-fold format to make it smaller and easier to hand out.  It does a really good job of explaining the idea of Suspended Coffee to newbies. Just click on the link above to download the handout, print some out, and start handing them out to businesses.

I have also finished a sample Letter for Businesses that anyone can use. My letter focuses on the business owner’s possible concerns and answers questions that owners may have about offering Suspended Coffees. S.C. supporters can also copy the letter contents and send it in an email to their local businesses.

Lastly, I would also encourage supporters to offer personal assistance to the business, sign the letter and include your personal contact information. That way the business owner knows that you are an active member of the local community.

Suspended Coffee in China and the Philipines

Suspended Coffee is continuing its phenomenal explosion around the globe, now reaching restaurants in China and the Philippines. In Xi’an, Shaanxi province, China, a restaurant has started offering “suspended lunches” to patrons.

“Gao Wenlin, partner of Yushang Cultural Kitche, located in High-tech Zone of Xi’an, said the restaurant allows customers to buy a maximum 30 portions of free lunches each day.” Free lunch stirred by ‘suspended’ coffee rage

Apparently, a debate was started on the micro-blogging site, Weibo, that attracted Chinese celebrities and the People’s Daily. Hopefully, this attention leads to more Chinese participation.

It seems there are also a few stores in the Philippines that are offering Suspended Coffee. I couldn’t understand much of what was said in this video, but it’s clear Suspended Coffee has reached Quezon City, Philippines.

New Suspended Coffee Flyers You Can Edit

New Flyers!

I’ve updated the Resources for Business page. There is now a Spanish version of the business flyer in addition to the English and German versions. Plus, per request, I’ve added editable versions for all three flyers. Businesses, feel free to take these, change the wording to suit your needs and add any logos and other images to make it work for your particular business. These flyers are my gift to the Suspended Coffee community.

Suspended Coffee is about Community

The whole idea of Suspended Coffee is about community: members of the community supporting other members of the community and local businesses.  In addition, the Suspended Coffee movement may be the first real movement that started from a viral Facebook meme.  While the idea itself came from an old Italian tradition, the current movement started from a post on Facebook.  The people that have organized this resurrected Italian tradition, have come from many walks of life, many places across the globe, and speak many languages.  It has been amazing to watch the community forming itself.

We can take this a step farther and try to function more as a real community in this effort, even though we come from many different places and perspectives.  We can all add something and cooperate to make it work for the good of all. This includes asking for help when necessary (hint, hint to those who are still trying to get a website up). In my opinion, community is what Suspended Coffee is all about, and that includes giving and receiving help.

On that note, I must cut this short and attend a memorial for a fallen leader in my local community. RIP Kurt Bischoff.

What Makes Suspended Coffee Special?

The Beauty of Suspended Coffee is that it breaks down the isolation of the poor.

What makes Suspended Coffee different from other forms of charity

I could tell that there was something special about Suspended Coffee when I first heard of it. However, I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what was special about it until I saw that Australian news story yesterday. In the piece Daniel Strictland of Mission Australia mentioned that Suspended Coffee allows the poor to go inside food establishments and socialize where they could not go previously.

That is the key. It helps end the isolation and invites the poor back into the community.

In a small way, Suspended Coffee opens doors and allows the poor and homeless to be more a part of the community. Yes, community shelters give the homeless a place to sleep. Yes, food banks provide food. Yes, people can bring food, beverages and money to those homeless who beg on the street corners. While shelters and food banks are essential, they still keep the poor and homeless separated from the rest of the community. They are segregated into acceptable areas away from the rest. Worse, usually members of the community will fight to keep shelters away from more prosperous areas, telling the inhabitants, “You are NOT welcome here.”

Food banks and shelters are certainly more efficient in bringing essential goods are services to those that need it. They are essential and I am not advocating ending these forms of charity. However, they do not do well in breaking down the walls that isolate the poor from the rest of the community.

Why Suspended Coffee breaks down barriers and builds community

Not only are the poor being invited to eat with the rest of the community with Suspended Coffee, the people that are doing the inviting are other customers from the community. It is truly a community gesture. It’s not a gift from the government or far-off donors or large corporations looking for a tax break. Suspended Coffee is the community extending a hand to it’s more ostracized and vulnerable members. It says “You are welcome here.”

Suspended Coffee Made the News in Australia

The Suspended Coffee movement is growing fast. There are new Facebook pages added almost daily for different regions around the globe and I can’t even begin to imagine how many shops worldwide have adopted this great idea. If you are looking for a shop in your area, try to find the Facebook page for your area and local stores should be listed. If there isn’t one, you could start one!

I am proud to note that my flyer made it onto the newscast. Yes, that’s my flyer at 30 sec. and 1:24 min. with the Suspended Coffee Supporter logo that someone else contributed. Amazingly, I made that about a week ago, and it is already in a shop thousands of miles away and on the local news. If that’s what happens in a week, I can’t wait to see what happens in a month or a year.

The Horrors of being Homeless and the Hope of Suspended Coffee

Women and man holding cups of coffee

It’s about more than just the coffee.

It’s been over a decade since being put out onto the street, pregnant and with two young kids.  I feel my experience could help people understand better what it’s like to be homeless and why Suspended Coffee can make such a difference.  There are a lot of misconceptions out there.

Personally, I had it easier than many.  I managed to stay in shelters.  I kept an unstable roof over our heads throughout the ordeal.  I got into the charity “system” where I could access the best sources of assistance.

The Stress

Nonetheless, there was the stress–just astronomical levels of stress.  Every moment I felt a knife hanging over my head:  Will we have a place to stay?  Would we be safe? Many nights in the shelters were pockmarked were the sounds of nearby bullets. I was forced to work with a former drug lord at a food bank to “earn” my $400/mo. TANF money. One day this drug lord described how he cut off the fingers of a woman who had betrayed him.

My daughter had to learn street smarts when she started kindergarten in the inner city, taking a special bus from the shelters. My infant son dropped from the 95th percentile in weight to the 5th. He also dropped significantly behind in his verbal development.  The stress affected everyone.

The Isolation

The isolation was extreme.  Trauma is inherently isolating.  Add to that the  virtual impossibility of making lasting friendships.  Either our new friends would leave–or get kicked out–or we would leave. We jumped through four shelters in less than four months: Sacred Heart House, Samaritan House, Damen House, and Decatur Place.

The Suffering

Beyond my own stress and hurt was the stories of suffering from all the other women I met. Horrific suffering was the primary characteristic of the homeless community that I witnessed.  Trauma.  Abuse.  Violence.  Illness. Everyone I met sat under a thick, black cloud of suffering.

  • My daughter had a friend her age who had witnessed her father being murdered.
  • Another women I met had been molested by an uncle during childhood and then severely beaten by a husband later on.
  • Still another woman and her kids had fled a violent relationship. When the family was sleeping in the park, she told them they were camping.

There were many more.  These just stood out.

Kind Gestures can Make a World of Difference

This leads to why I believe Suspended Coffee will make a far greater difference than most people realize.  A kind gesture–like a simple cup of coffee from a stranger– can make the world of difference in an extreme situation. In extreme situations it’s easy to give up or to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. A kind gesture can give someone the strength to make it through the day. It can make someone feel a little less alone.  It can give someone the hope that eventually their life can be better. It’s about more than just the coffee. Much more.

8 Criticisms of Suspended Coffee and My Response

After Suspended Coffee’s initial wave of popularity on the social media, critics have come out of the woodwork to cut down the idea.  Some have been blatantly trolls, some have been hopelessly cynical, and some have made good points.  Here is a summary of some of the criticisms.  None have dampened my belief that this is a good idea.  Here is my personal response to eight of these criticisms.

Criticism: “Suspended Coffee” is a marketing scam.

Reply: This started as a response to a Facebook post that went viral just before Easter and featured a picture from the Washington Post of a homeless man named Cal Walker. I knew it was a good idea right away and got this domain and plan to develop this site.  I am committed to not making any money from it.  My personal work is and will remain free for others to use.  Max of Facebook’s Coffee Sospeso (Suspended Coffee) community has publicly requested that people not take advantage of the movement financially.

This isn’t to say that no one will ever try, but at this point most of the people involved appear to be acting in a spirit of goodwill.

Criticism: Homeless people won’t know where to go or how to ask for “Suspended Coffee”

Reply: First, I have helped solve this by offering a flyer that businesses may use to communicate to customers how to give and receive Suspended Coffees.  Businesses may download a copy here or create their own.  Secondly, there are networks that form in the homeless community.  I know that times I have offered a homeless person some food at work, only to find him return the next day along with several buddies, for better or for worse.  That is truly not an issue.

Criticism: Employees or business owners will steal the money.

Reply: That is certainly possible.  However, it is highly unlikely that businesses will risk the scandal of stealing from homeless people.  The amount they could benefit is paltry compared to the risk.  Employees may be tempted to steal them or to donate them to their friends. Again, the risks outweigh the benefits, even if the risk is less to the employee.  The business owners will be motivated to make sure their employees do not steal.  My Suspended Coffee certificate would help owners keep track of sales and keep their employees honest.

Criticism: People who do not need the coffee may take advantage of the program

Reply: This criticism is founded.  While most people do have a conscience and will use Suspended Coffees properly, there are a small percentage of people who are more in need of morals than money.  Furthermore, you can not expect the cashier/barista to be able to make that determination.  Not all homeless people are old drunken men who smell of beer and pee.  If you choose to participate in the Suspended coffee idea, you must accept the slight risk that there will be times that someone takes advantage of it.

Criticism: No one will want to go to cafe’s that have a bunch of hobos that smell

Reply: That is a stereotype.  There are many women and children that are homeless too, and many homeless people are very creative in finding ways to stay clean. Many poor people, who are not homeless, could also benefit from suspended coffee.

There are a few that fit the stereotype and these people can become problematic in other ways.  Sometimes a homeless person who is drunk can become disruptive and harass the other customers.  That is why I added a disclaimer to the door flyer that businesses may refuse service to them, just as they may refuse service to any drunk customer who is disrupting the store.

Criticism: There are better ways to help the poor, like food banks and other charities.

Reply: Of course there are other ways to help, but that doesn’t mean that this is a bad idea or that it will supplant other forms of charity.  It’s a new way to help others. At the very least it is a good way to get people involved in charity who might otherwise not do so. If you support the idea of Suspended Coffee, you may want to consider doing a little more to help others in need: like handing out bus tokens, $5 gift cards, protein or granola bars directly to homeless people; or donating to food banks and other charities.

Plus, sometimes homeless people have barriers to reaching other charities.  Food banks do not always just give out food to anyone who asks.  They usually have a qualification system and limits to the time someone can receive food. For example, our main local food bank in Boulder CO., EFAA, is focused on taking care of families and they require that you prove that you have children, live in the area, and have a low enough income.  EFAA does a lot of great work, but they don’t and can’t help everyone.

Criticism: It will be too difficult to keep track of and require too much work for the cashier/barista.

Reply: The certificate solves a lot of these problems.  It provides a place for keeping track of the items purchased, the amount, the date, a place for a tracking number, and a place to tip the server.  The customer can fill it out, so there’s less work for the employees.  I created the certificate based on my experience working at a food bank, using a food bank, working at a food establishment, and being homeless.

Criticism:  What if there are too many coffees purchased, but not enough takers?

Reply: The simple solution would be for a business to allow only a set number of Suspended Coffees at a time.  Once they reach that limit, they would not take any orders until some of the certificates were used up.

In short, while the idea of Suspended Coffee may not be perfect, it is a good idea and with some tweaking should work in many locations.

Sources include: http://consumerist.com/2013/03/29/why-ordering-suspended-coffees-for-the-needy-is-stupid-and-inefficient/

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

…and an assortment of comments on Facebook.