It’s not often that Mike Cozens gets to enjoy a fresh croissant filled with ham and Swiss cheese from The Bakers’ Window at The Fountain.
But late last week, on a sunny but crisp spring morning, the 28-year-old homeless man who frequents State Street was able to enjoy more than just a free hot sandwich. Cozens learned empathy is not absent on one of the state’s signature streets, thanks to “Suspended Coffee,” a new program designed to make a poor person’s day a little brighter and educate others about the scope of poverty in Dane County.
“There are still people that care,” Cozens said as he took a swig from a 1-liter plastic bottle of Mountain Dew. “It’s a good program. It’s awesome.”
State Street is where panhandling is limited by law, and college students sport $300 sets of headphones plugged into their iPhones stuffed into $100 windbreakers. It’s also where lobbyists, small business owners, attorneys, state workers and street musicians mingle with tourists and the homeless. All are instrumental to the success of the program.
Suspended Coffee is named after a similar initiative in Italy and The Bakers’ Window, at 122 State St., is the first local business to take part. The program is sponsored by the Autonomous Solidarity Organization.
Organizers hope the program will spread to other cafes, coffee shops and bakeries.
A customer can choose to buy a suspended item along with their regular purchase.
At The Bakers’ Window, for instance, a $2.11 donation puts a blue marble in a clear glass bowl and represents a free cup of coffee. A $3.11 donation places a green marble in the bowl and signifies a pastry or bread item.
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The clear bowl allows those without money to see if a free item is available. No questions are asked, but users are limited to one item per day.
“It’s a small, silent, visual cue,” said Meg Rothstein, a former librarian at Madison’s Central Library and an advocate for the homeless. “A lot of their time is spent hearing ‘no.’”
The idea for the local Suspended Coffee program came from Carrie Riddle, 48, a city streets department worker who earlier in her life experienced being homeless. Riddle has taken part and organized other outreach programs for the homeless and said simple offerings to someone in despair can’t be underestimated.
“A little bit of kindness goes a long way,” Riddle said.
Food for the poor and homeless is available at various places in Madison, including food pantries and meal sites such as Luke House, 310 S. Ingersoll St., and at Grace Episcopal Church, 116 W. Washington Ave.
Suspended Coffee is not intended to replace those options.
“This will hopefully make people feel like they are worth something and they’ll keep trying,” Riddle said.
At The Bakers’ Window, seven blue marbles and two green marbles were in the bowl Friday morning. The bakery is known for its diverse lineup, including gluten-free and vegan items. And some are just plain decadent. The glass display cases and shelves are lined with breads made with currants and walnuts, roasted red pepper and Asiago cheese, scones, croissants and muffins.
The coffee is locally roasted by Just Coffee Cooperative on the Near East Side.
“I’m sure the word will get out,” said Kristina Stanley, 29, manager of the cozy, warm bakery a block from the state Capitol. “It’s not going to keep someone from going hungry, but it could give them some hope.”