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New York’s coffee shops pull together to get free java to the front line

The coronavirus has numbed us in many ways, but to one thing it has not: the unflappable generosity of the human spirit. And our everlasting need for caffeine.

That’s where the booming grassroots philanthropic campaign NYLovesCoffee comes in, slinging java to those on the front line of the coronavirus crisis while helping small businesses at the same time.

The concept behind NYLovesCoffee is simple: Individuals and corporations can remotely buy anywhere from four to 150-plus cups to be enjoyed by hospital staffers battling the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to help with their mind-boggling fatigue. To sweeten the deal, doughnuts can also be tacked onto orders.

Four cups of coffee costs $10; 100-plus is $230 and a custom delivery of 150-plus cups of coffee to an area hospital of your choice is $300. As of press time, the organization has even had one generous soul buy 300 cups for three different hospital locations.

To prepare for deliveries, all coffee contributions are tallied up until there is enough for a hospital department delivery. Typically, this amounts to around 50 cups of hot and iced coffee, with iced tea sometimes thrown into the mix for the java teetotalers among our health care heroes. The logistics are ironed out from there. At this point, a New York City specialty coffee shop is selected to fill the order and a hospital location is confirmed for the drop-off.

“These coffee purchases keep these small businesses brewing throughout this crisis at a time when they have lost almost all their foot traffic business and many have closed completely,” says Paul Kontonis chief marketing officer at WHOSAY, who spearheads NYLovesCoffee’s marketing efforts.

Kontonis was brought on after being approached by his longtime friend Dane Atkinson. As the CEO of Odeko, a startup artificial intelligence tech company based in New York City for — you guessed it — coffee shops, Atkinson founded NYLovesCoffee as a way to help health-care workers and small businesses simultaneously.

Now, Kontonis is proud to share that they’ve delivered over 35,000 cups of coffee since deliveries began in mid-March. Still, there’s much work to be done: “Even though we have gone to the hospitals many times, there are still departments we have not reached yet. Let’s not forget all the night-shift workers!”

Currently, participating coffee shops include local favorites like Bean & Bean Coffee, Bird & Branch Coffee, Birch Coffee, Buunni Coffee, Dough Doughnuts and Everyman Espresso.

“I feel like it is incumbent upon us [to make] that 12-hour shift for them as palatable as we can. We can’t really thank them enough,” says Jeremy Lyman, co-founder of Birch Coffee on why he participates in this worthwhile operation. In addition to participating in coffee drop-offs, Birch Coffee has also done several pop-up barista stations at hospitals during which they set up a barista bar in their van where employees can get their free coffee.

Jiyoon Han, head of innovation at Bean & Bean Coffee (she’s also the daughter of the company’s founders), echoes that sentiment, noting, “Of course, a cup of coffee can only do so much for all the stress our frontline workers are going through. It’s a token of appreciation.”

But sometimes, such an offering of gratitude can be the difference between another grueling day on the battlefield of the coronavirus pandemic, and a moment of happiness.

Most of the hospital coffee deliveries that NYLovesCoffee facilitates are conducted outside of the building, during which you’ll see the doctors and nurses themselves pushing any handcart they can find to load up and carry all the coffee and doughnuts back inside to share with their colleagues.

“These are not glamorous, organized events, but all-hands-on-deck activities,” says Kontonis. “The power of smiles behind their masks is something to behold. Every person that we have delivered coffee to is beaming with happiness that people are thinking of them and giving them something as simple as a cup of coffee. Even though their faces are covered, you can see them smiling and saying thank you.”

For Atkinson, an Elmhurst Hospital drop-off will forever stick out in his mind as a powerful reminder of his team’s work.

“The doctors and nurses were lined up and waiting for us to bring the coffee and doughnuts,” Atkinson says. “They were so happy everything was organized for them and they made a line that wrapped the many hallways of the hospital. When we arrived everyone was clapping and literally dancing in the hallways.”

On the receiving end, NYLovesCoffee’s efforts are far from unrecognized by the grateful hospital employees.

“On behalf of Elmhurst Hospital and all the staff here, I want to thank you guys, it really made our day,” says Wayne Zimmerman, chief operating officer of the Elmhurst Hospital, of their recent brew bounty which was delivered courtesy of a $1,000 donation from the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League. “It’s certainly going to brighten up a lot of the spirits here.”

Nicole Porto, associate director of patient experience at Mount Sinai also expresses her tremendous thanks for NYLovesCoffee’s regular drop-offs, which arrive every Friday for both day and night-shift workers. (While many organizations regularly deliver food and beverages to hospitals during regular business hours, night-shift workers are often overlooked even though they’re putting in the same Herculean efforts as their daytime counterparts.)

“We have so many incredible front-line employees, not only doctors and nurses, but also [those in] food services, engineering, environmental services and more. NYLovesCoffee has really been a lifeline in supporting our communities and something we look forward to week after week,” says Porto. “Every cup of coffee we pour ourselves is an opportunity for us to feel cared for and a reminder of what we’re fighting for during a time when our staff is working tirelessly to save people’s lives.”

On a parting note, Atkinson urges us to remember how big an impact these seemingly small gestures have.

“Hospital workers always remain positive and when they get their coffee deliveries, they never let us leave without sending back messages of love. Challenges reveal the greatness in people,” he says. “We are currently doing 200 to 500 cups of coffee a day for tens of thousands of cups total. They are swept up the moment we arrive. This helps the small shops and the responders alike, so please keep it coming, New York!”

Ready to put some pep in the step of New York City heroes? Visit NYLovesCoffee.com and send a cup of joe on its way to a hospital worker in need of a caffeine lift.

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